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Literature / Midnighters

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Strange things happen at midnight in Bixby, Oklahoma...

Midnighters is a young-adult book series written by Scott Westerfeld. It's set in the small town of Bixby, Oklahoma (which, incidentally, does exist in Real Life). The main premise is that there are 25 hours in a day. The 25th hour is nicknamed "the blue time" because everything has a slightly blue glow, and takes place right after the stroke of midnight.

This is much Worse Than It Sounds for the Heroes, because creatures called darklings and slithers inhabit the blue time, which are as nasty as they sound. Also, technology and most ordinary people become frozen in time, and look like they came straight out of Uncanny Valley, according to the Midnighters crew.

They're the heroes, and are the only people who can walk around and be not frozen in the blue time. They are Jessica, Jonathan, Melissa, Rex and Desdemona (who goes by Dess, for obvious reasons). They all have nonstandard powers (and are very sensitive to light).

Jessica's power is that she can make technology work in the blue time, and Jonathan is an acrobat, which means he has an extreme ability to jump. Melissa is a mindcaster, which means she can read minds (and she can't stop, she's constantly bombarded except during the blue time. And she goes to high school.) Rex is a Seer, meaning that he can see only things related to the blue time; everything else is blurry without his Cool Shades. Desdemona is a polymath, meaning she is really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really good at math.

Not to be confused with the Midnighter.

Midnighters tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Rex's father. That is, until Melissa Mind Rapes him.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Bixby is a real city in Oklahoma, albeit not one that even American readers are likely to know.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Beth. But she starts to annoy Jess only after she realizes that Jess was hiding something. And she actually has a personality.
  • Anti-Magical Faction: The Grayfoot family took down the 1950s midnighters and is in the employ of the darklings.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Angie asking Rex what happened to his father.
  • Badass Normal: Jessica and Jonathan during the normal hours, since their powers are useless outside of Midnight. Though Johnathan can still work out angles and jumps for Le Parkour, he just can't leap five stories in the air anymore.
  • Battle Couple: Jessica and Jonathan and by the end of the second book Rex and Melissa.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: Madeleine's attempt to help Rex with his darkling side becomes one of these: she loses control of the ancient mindcasters in her memory, who decide to destroy the half-darkling "abomination.".
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Melissa suggests this happened on a massive scale with the ancient midnighters. Someone, somewhere down the line, decided that they were justified in treating daylighters however they wanted. The idea spread through mindcasting so that future generations literally could not believe anything else. The only thing that finally ends the transmission of the tainted memories is the genocide that wiped out the midnighters in the 1950s.
  • Beta Couple: Rex and Melissa.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The last book. The blue hour has been sealed back up and humankind at large is safe from the Darklings' threat again. However, Jess is now stuck permanently in the blue hour and the blue hour's area of effect is spreading, meaning that the Darklings can spread out some more... As can the Midnighters, since more people can access the blue hour more easily.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The darkling's human allies don't like their morally dubious duties (such as kidnapping Rex) but believe it's a better option than allowing midnighters to rule Bixby again. It might not hurt that it's made them very rich.
  • Blessed with Suck: Melissa's power, until she learns how to control it. Reading minds sounds cool, until you realize that you're reading everyone's mind at once and you can't turn it off. Now imagine being stuck with that in high school.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Inverted. All of the Midnighters' powers correlate to a school subject, which they excel at because of the powers (except Melissa). Dess: math (trigonometry this year), and probably engineering as well; Jonathan: physics; Rex: history; Jess: chemistry.
  • Chosen One: The Flame-bringer.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Being able to enter the Blue Time seems really cool at first. Then you bump into the nasty things that live there. You still get some really snazzy superpower out of it, though, some of which (polymath, mindcaster, metallurge) are possibly even more useful outside Midnight.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Most of the midnighters dress in all black and do the "vampire thing" according to Jessica. That being said, evil generally is dark, and light tends to be good because of that.
  • Deal with the Devil: The Greyfoots made their money by working for the darklings, who tell them where to drill for oil.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The real protagonist of the trilogy is either Jessica, Rex, or Dess.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Dess and Jonathan debate this about Rex and Melissa in Touching Darkness.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Touching a mindcaster is often figured as sexual throughout the second book (to the point that Dess even calls it "doing the psychic nasty"). By extension, Melissa reading Dess' mind without her permission is likened to rape, although Jessica stops just short of actually using the word.
  • Eldritch Abomination: All the Slithers and Darklings probably count, but the elder Darklings especially.
  • Emotion Eater: The elder darklings do this.
  • Enemy Within: Rex in Blue Noon, as a result of a sort of twisted Split-Personality Merge.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Papa Greyfoot evacuates his family before the long midnight.
  • Evil Counterpart: Anathea to Rex in book 2 before he becomes a halfling himself, although its subverted because she is just as much a victim as she is an enemy. In a similar vain, Madeline could be an Evil Counterpart to Melissa, though in a more morally corrupted sense than just full on evil.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The darklings and slither bites.
  • Fictionary: The Lore seems to be its own entirely different language, although we don't get to see it beyond the symbols for the talents of the Five-Man Band. Seers seem to be born with the ability to read and understand the language of the Lore, but it is possible for others (including non-Midnighters) to learn it.
  • Friendly Enemy: Angie, eventually.
  • Good with Numbers: Polymaths. Dess can do lengthy, difficult, and intricate calculations easily in her head, and she can come up with thirteen-letter names in an instant.
  • Hates Being Touched: Melissa. She gets better, though.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Anathea, a Seer from 50 years ago that got turned into a "Halfling," a human-Darkling hybrid. She gets progressively weaker, so the Darklings try to make a new one out of Rex. It works for a while, but he gets better. Though he still carries some of the traits, like an aversion to math, metal, and the number 13, and has the occasional predatory instinct slip.
  • The Hidden Hour: Only people born at exactly midnight can access it, and all sorts of nasty monsters like to roam around in it.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Melissa in particular struggles to use her powers, and blames her failure to find Dess for several years and nearly leaving Rex's father a vegetable on her youth and inexperience.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Dess calling the other midnighters "goth" or "emo." Melissa calls her on it.
    Dess: This dress is charcoal.
  • Idiot Ball: Rex calling Angie from his home phone, which it never occurred to him might be tapped. She's disgusted.
  • I Know What You Fear: Type 1 seems to be associated with the nastier sorts of darkling. Rex can do it too, and at one point intimidates another character by doing...something to make himself resemble a snake.
  • Improvised Weapon: Since any piece of a metal alloy given a 13-letter name is a deadly weapon against the Darklings, most of the weapons and defenses tend to be fairly mundane (and sometimes bizarre or random) objects, like screws, bolts, paper clips, hubcaps, silverware, trash can lids, letter openers, a fence or two, and one particularly badass microphone stand.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Jess mentioning that she knows Cassie lives in Jenks.
  • In-Series Nickname: Lots and lots.
    • Jess and Dess usually go by abbreviations of their name for day-to-day use.
    • Rex calls Melissa 'Cowgirl' after the cowgirl pajamas she was wearing when they met, and she starts calling him 'Loverboy' as their friendship grows into a relationship, both examples of an Affectionate Nickname.
    • Jonathan gets 'Flyboy' and Jessica is jokingly called 'the all-powerful flashlight bringer' due to their powers.
    • People call Melissa and Madeleine 'the queen bitch.' The latter also gets 'bitch goddess' and 'the Vile One.'
    • Dess does this to tease people, using 'Maddy' and 'Rexy' sometimes. Madeleine calls her 'Dessy' once or twice as revenge.
  • Jump Physics: Acrobats. During the blue time, gravity's pull on Jonathan and whoever or whatever he's touching is sharply decreased. He puts the jumps in most Platform Games to shame.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Jess hates lying to her family about midnight, and ends up in trouble with them because she can't come clean about what's going on. At the end of the series, Beth feels this way about not being able to tell their parents what happened to Jessica.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The third book pokes a bit of fun at the drama (and cliché) of everything going down at midnight on Halloween.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: One of the more morally-ambiguous ways Melissa uses her powers over the course of the books.
  • The Load: Jessica (for most of the first book), who attracts Slithers and Darklings like roadkill attracts flies. Then she learns what her power is.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Constanza Grayfoot is the fashion-obsessed queen of the school who struts about with her girl posse and dreams of being an actress in L.A. She's part Native American, not blonde, and is more harmlessly superficial than actually evil (even being friendly with some of the Midnighters), so she's not a straight Alpha Bitch.
  • Magikarp Power: Jessica.
  • Magocracy: It turns out that Bixby was one for thousands of years, with daylighters living in terror of midnighters who believed it was their right to rule Bixby however they saw fit.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Madeline, an old mindcaster. Among many other things, she used her power to convince Melissa's and Dess's mothers to push either just a little earlier or later, so they'd be born exactly at midnight.
    • Melissa too...actually, this is pretty much par for the course for mindcasters, apparently. Both of them affectionately (or not) get the title "Queen Bitch" at some point. And dear lord do they ever prove that they deserve it.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Jessica and Jonathan, after Jessica becomes confined to the Blue Time in exchange for fixing the rift between the normal hours and Midnight. Jonathan will continue to age as normal, but Jessica only exists for 1 hour each day and therefore will age by 1 day roughly every 3 weeks.
  • Meaningful Name: Some of the weapons comment on the situations in which they're used, such as Foolhardiness. Dess also gives Rex a knife named Animalization in 'Blue Noon'', which he doesn't appreciate.
  • Mind Rape: Mindcasters are good at this. Melissa accidentally mind raped Rex and Johnathan on a small scale when they touched her and her mind raping was responsible for Rex's father turning into a vegetable.
    • Poor Dess gets mind raped pretty badly twice in the second book. First by Madeline, although that wasn't entirely mind rape as she planted useful information and then gave Dess a trick to freely block and unblock it. Second by Melissa, trying by brute mental force to tear down said barrier and get said information out of Dess. She certainly isn't happy about it, but she survives with her sanity intact.
  • Named Weapons: Giving a piece of metal a thirteen-letter name makes it more power, leading to a ton of these. The really epic ones get three-word names for a total of thirty-nine letters.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Madeline. Yeesh.
  • New Transfer Student: Being a new student at tiny Bixby High School gives Jessica an almost celebrity status when she arrives.
  • Numerological Motif: 12 (for the Darklings) and 13 (for the Midnighters). Factors of both numbers exert equal power as well.
  • The Ophelia: Melissa.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: Dess filed down some of the pegs on her music box to make it sound more like this.
  • Ordinary High-School Student: From 12:01 AM to 11:59 PM. (Although Rex's, Melissa's, and Dess's powers do work in the daylight hours.)
  • Pair the Spares: Actually sort of averted, since Rex and Melissa had the couple vibe before they formally hooked up, and Dess is still single at the end of the series. Actually, since Dess never expresses romantic affection for anyone or anything (except maybe math and numbers), it's possible she's aromantic.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The midnighters' plans often get fouled up by poor communication, whether as fantastic as weak telepathic connection or as mundane as Beth not passing on all the details of a phone call.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The halflings, who are midnighters made half-darkling so that they can communicate with human agents through the lore.
  • Purple Is the New Black: Purple is associated with midnight, but so are black and blue.
  • Sanity Ball: Inverted. Throughout the books, there is always one person in the main group of Midnighters who is struggle with their mental stability. Who this is changes throughout the trilogy. It was Melissa in book one, due to her inability to control her power. Once she starts having control in book two, Madeline puts a mental block on Dess so that one part of Dess mind is keeping Madeline’s secrets and the other part is unaware of the secrets which while, it’s helpful in the beginning, definitely begins to take a tole on Dess’s mind and begins to split her personality. Once Melissa removes this and cures Dess, Rex becomes a Halfling and once he is rescued he still retains some Darkling personality traits at the end of the book, enough to become a Token Evil Teammate. In the third book, he manages to overcome this just before Jessica becomes trapped in the secret hour and her boyfriend, Jonathan, falls into depression.
  • See-Thru Specs: The Seer power. Rex is mostly blind without his glasses, but things touched by Midnight (including Midnighters) appear in sharp focus. When he wears his glasses, "normal" things are clear, but stuff involving Midnight gets blurry (or outright invisible in the case of runes and lore).
  • Serious Business: The source of the tension between Rex and Jonathan. Rex wants to learn all there is to know about Midnight and thinks there's some deep higher purpose to the existence of Midnighters and their powers, while Jonathan (who has the fun power) thinks Rex is being way too "Stop Having Fun" Guys about it.
  • Shown Their Work: While he may have gotten the time frames wrong (see Fridge Logic and the Headscratchers page), Westerfeld still had to do a decent amount of research, primarily on numbering systems, making this series overall a welcome subversion of Writers Cannot Do Math.
  • Single Tear: Both Jessica and Melissa get a moment in Blue Noon.
  • Supporting Protagonist: One of the characters in the running for overall series main character is Dess, The Smart Guy.
  • Telepathy: The Mindcaster power. But unless you know how to control it properly, it's far more of a hassle than a perk.
  • 13 Is Unlucky: For Slithers and Darklings, that is. If you're a human, it's your best weapon.
  • Time Stands Still: Of the "moving incredibly fast" variety. Actually, a Darkling did it.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Dess (Tomboy) and Jessica (Girly Girl), Jessica (Tomboy) and Constanza (Girly Girl), and Melissa is the Girly Girl to Dess and the Tomboy to Jessica.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Or 13.
  • Trapped in Another World: Happens at least three times with Midnight. Anathea was trapped in Midnight for about 50 years. This trope happens to any Halfling. Cassie Flinders is lured into Midnight and trapped there for at least 24 hours. Jessica uses her power on lightning which has the side effect of trapping the Flame-Bringer in Midnight indefinitely. This trope also seems to have been the Darkling’s goal for the daylighters on Halloween in book 3.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Sometimes played straight (such as the lightning) or subverted (such as Rex's emeting with Angie, which starts to go wrong before the reader knows the details).
  • We Can Rule Together: The elder darklings offer to let Rex join their hunt in the third book.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Time Stands Still unless you're a Midnighter, and everything takes on a blue tinge. And Darklings and Slithers roam about.
  • Written by the Winners: With psychic assistance!
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Only a few milliseconds pass between the start of the blue hour and its end for mundanes.
  • You Are Grounded!: Jess spends the first and second books sneaking around due to being grounded.