Burning Midnight

Burning Midnight

by Will McIntosh


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For fans of The Maze Runner and The Fifth Wave, this debut YA novel from Hugo Award winner Will McIntosh pits four underprivileged teens against an evil billionaire in the race of a lifetime. 
No one knows where the brilliant-colored spheres came from. One day they were just there, hidden all over the earth like huge gemstones. Burn a pair and they make you a little better: an inch taller, skilled at math, better-looking. The rarer the sphere, the greater the improvement—and the more expensive the sphere.
Sully is a sphere dealer at a flea market. It doesn’t pay much—Alex Holliday’s stores have muscled out most of the independent sellers—but it helps him and his mom make the rent. When Sully meets Hunter, a girl with a natural talent for finding spheres, the two start searching together. One day they find a Gold—a color no one has ever seen. There’s no question the Gold is priceless, but what does it actually do? None of them is aware of it yet, but the fate of the world rests on this little golden orb. Because all the world fights over the spheres, but no one knows where they come from, what their powers are, or why they’re here.
Chosen as a 2017 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

Burning Midnight is for (1) adrenaline junkies and gamers, (2) obsessive collectors, and (3) people who can’t get enough of crazy endings. I’m all of these things, and I loved it.” —Margaret Stohl, New York Times bestselling author of Black Widow: Forever Red and coauthor of the internationally bestselling Beautiful Creatures series

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Burning Midnight

“In an impressive YA debut, adult SF author McIntosh spins an action-packed adventure. . . . An engaging cast and thought-provoking premise help fuel this thriller.” —Publishers Weekly

“A quick read with likable characters, the story is well paced with a quirky view of the future. A great addition to YA sci-fi shelves.” —SLJ
“[With] a film-ready action climax . . . this fast-paced urban quest wears its agenda on its sleeve, but it’s conveyed with verve and an endearing sense of justice.” —Kirkus Reviews

“With an inventive premise, this sci-fi adventure offers a scavenger hunt story with layers both political and emotional. The detailed backstory and underlying logic are clearly conveyed without dragging down the pace, and the plot manages to twist and surprise. . . . Ultimately a winning story of friendship in the face of easy money and power, this novel has much to offer the reader who’s up for something new.” —The Bulletin

"Burning Midnight is for 1) adrenaline junkies and gamers 2) obsessive collectors 3) people who can't get enough of crazy endings. I'm all of these things, and I loved it." —Margaret Stohl, author of Marvel's Black Widow: Forever Red and co-author of the internationally bestselling Beautiful Creatures series

Praise for Will McIntosh

Winner of a Hugo Award for Best Short Story

Nebula Award Finalist

★ “This is speculative fiction at its most personal and powerful, extrapolating current social and technological trends and exploring how they would affect future people. . . . Intriguing, quirky, perversely charming and definitely affecting.” —Kirkus Reviews on Love Minus Eighty, Starred Review
“[Love Minus Eighty] manages to deliver a light, romantic story without ever sacrificing its dark vision of the future.” —i09.com
“McIntosh is without a doubt one of the most underrated science fiction authors writing today. Defenders is an emotional, action-packed story. . . . McIntosh’s cautionary near-future tale, told from multiple perspectives, serves as a brutally honest portrayal of how humans carelessly exploit, destroy— and in this case create—other species.” —RT Book Reviews (Top Pick)

Publishers Weekly

The spheres are mysterious artifacts that appeared one day; often hidden just out of plain sight, they are coveted for their ability to convey various effects—Copper for ambidexterity, Cranberry for better looks, Cream for athleticism, and so forth. While the more common spheres are relatively cheap, rarer finds can fetch massive sums, turning sphere-hunting and speculation into a lucrative business. Sully is one such reseller, trying to make ends meet at a flea market. When he teams up with Hunter, a resourceful girl with a knack for finding spheres, it seems like they might get lucky. However, their discovery of a never-before-seen Gold opens up new questions about the nature of the spheres and attracts the attention of a ruthless billionaire. In an impressive YA debut, adult SF author McIntosh (Defenders) spins an action-packed adventure that makes a statement about the relative value of commodities and self-improvements that can be bought, not earned. An engaging cast and thought-provoking premise help fuel this thriller, though the slightly off-the-rails ending doesn't quite live up to the story's other strengths. Ages 12–up. Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (Feb.)

School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up—In the near future, different colored spheres appear all over the world, out in the open as well as in nooks and crannies in parks and creeks and water towers. No one knows where the spheres came from, but people soon realize that each color represents a human attribute or skill—like perfect teeth or perfect pitch—and one must find a matching pair and absorb them to become prettier or smarter or run faster. Of course, a market for both sphere collectors and burners, those who choose to absorb the skills the spheres offer, emerges, which is how Sully meets Hunter. There's good money in the sphere market, and Sully and Hunter quickly bond over their mutual investment. Together with Sully's best friend, Dom, and a kindred spirit, Mandy, Sully and Hunter compete against powerful corporations for depleting sphere resources. But when new, bigger spheres with unknown powers appear on the scene, the teens find themselves entrenched in a dangerous fight against both the evil corporations that seek to exploit them and the aliens preying on burners. A quick read with likable characters, the story is well paced with a quirky view of the future. VERDICT A great addition to YA sci-fi shelves.—Jennifer Miskec, Longwood University, Farmville, VA

Kirkus Reviews

A 17-year-old boy and his friends just want enough to survive on in a world where the rich and powerful greedily take everything. Sully was once "a millionaire for ten minutes, until Alex Holliday's lawyers stopped payment on the check." Sully, a white, working-poor boy from Yonkers, had been conned when only 13 by billionaire exec Holliday for his prize find: a Cherry Red. In the nine years since the brightly colored spheres blanketed the Earth, Cherry Red is still the rarest ever found. Anyone can use up a matched pair of spheres to gain skills—from Slate Gray's singing ability to Mustard's high IQ—so the rich pay millions for marbles that will enhance them in some way. McIntosh's world is almost exactly like ours, stuffed with pop-culture familiarity (folks read BuzzFeed and watch The Late Show with Stephen Colbert), but the rich enjoy even more privilege. When Sully meets Hunter, a sometimes-homeless Puerto Rican black girl with a tragic back story, she invites him to join her hunt for a fat prize: another rare marble, one valuable enough to give them both security. But when they're on the verge of success, Holliday pops up like a contemporary robber baron. Hunter, Sully, and their friends (a white Italian-American boy and a queer Korean-American girl) road-trip across the country in a race for gold that takes an unexpected but pleasing shift to a film-ready action climax. This fast-paced urban quest wears its agenda on its sleeve, but it's conveyed with verve and an endearing sense of justice. (Science fiction. 12-14)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553534139
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 01/31/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 819,677
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


Sully pulled the thin wad of bills from his pocket and counted. Thirteen bucks. He’d hauled his butt out of bed at six a.m. on a Saturday to make thirteen bucks in seven hours. He couldn’t work out how much that was per hour, but he knew Dom made more stacking yogurt and cream cheese at Price Chopper.

The flea market was depressingly empty. Most of the other vendors were parked on lawn chairs, their feet propped on tables. Sully spent enough time sitting in school, so he was standing, arms folded.

The timing of this epically bad payday couldn’t be worse. It would have given his mom a lift, for Sully to hand her a hundred bucks to put toward the rent or groceries.

He still couldn’t believe Exile Music had closed. Nine and a half years, Mom had worked there. By the end she’d been their manager, their accountant, their everything. But she had no accounting degree; she didn’t even have a high school diploma. Where was she going to find another job that paid half of what she’d been making?

Sully took a deep, sighing breath and stared down the long aisle.

A girl around Sully’s age turned the corner and headed in his direction. He watched her walk, head down, beat-up backpack slung over one shoulder. There was a swagger to her walk, a little attitude. Or maybe the combat boots, the black gloves with the fingertips cut off, the mass of dark braids bouncing off her back like coils of rope provided the attitude.

As she drew closer, Sully looked at his phone instead of staring. It was hard not to stare.

To Sully’s surprise, she slowed when she reached his stall. She eyed the orbs he kept locked under glass, running her tongue over her teeth. She was wearing loose-fitting cargo pants and zero makeup. Her brown angular face was striking, her take-no shit scowl a little intimidating. Not your usual flea market customer.

He cleared his throat. “Anything I can help you with?”

She studied him, squinted, as if he was slightly out of focus. She unslung the bag on her shoulder and knelt out of sight in front of his table.

When she reappeared she was clutching a sphere— a Forest Green. Enhanced sense of smell. Sully didn’t have to consult the book to know it scored a three out of ten on the rarity chart. Retail, he could easily get six hundred for it.

“How much?” she asked, holding it up.

His heart was hammering. This one deal could make his whole weekend. “Wow. You find that in the wild?” She didn’t strike him as a collector or an investor.

She nodded. “It was caked in mud. I thought it was an Army Green.” Which was a big fat one on the rarity chart. Resistance to the common cold. Sixty bucks.

“Man, you must have died when you cleaned it off.”

“How much?” she repeated, with the slightest of nods to acknowledge his comment.

Sully tried to remember how much cash he had on him. Two fifty? Maybe two seventy. Usually that was more than enough, because who brought a Forest Green to a flea market?

His gaze flicked between the Forest Green and the girl’s face. “Two fifty?” His voice rose at the last minute, making it sound more like a question.

The girl chuckled, bent to pick up her pack. “I can get three twenty-five from Holliday’s.”

Sully flinched when she said “Holliday’s,” but to her credit, she said it like it hurt her mouth.

“Hang on. I can go to three fifty, but I can’t get you the last hundred till tomorrow.” He’d have to borrow it from Dom.

The girl put a hand on her hip. “I’m sorry. Did I give you the impression I thought three twenty-five was a fair price? Let me rephrase: even the bastards over at Holliday’s would give me three twenty-five.”

Sully laughed in spite of himself. They were bastards. The brand-new store they’d opened in Yonkers was a big part of why Sully’s earnings had taken a nosedive. And Alex Holli­day himself was more than a bastard. Sully squelched any thought of Holliday before that particular train of thought could start running down the track.

He did some quick calculations. This girl could list the Forest Green on eBay and get at least four fifty. Minus eBay’s cut, that would leave her with about four hundred.

“Okay. Four twenty-five.” Two hundred dollars profit. He could definitely dance to that tune.
The girl scowled, opened her mouth to counter. Sully raised his hand. “Don’t even try to tell me that’s not a fair offer.” He looked her in the eye. “We both know it is.”

She held her scowl a second longer, then broke into a smile. It was a terrific smile, complete with dimples. “You got me. Four twenty-five.”

He pulled the cash from his pocket, started counting it out. “Like I said, I can give you two fifty now, the rest next Saturday.”

The girl’s eyebrows came together. “I hope you’re not thinking I’m going to give you this marble now. If you’ll have the cash next week, I’ll come back with the marble then.”

Sully licked his lips, which were dry as hell. If she left, there was always a chance she wouldn’t come back. It had happened before; it was never a good idea to give people time to find a better offer.

“Look, I’ll give you a receipt. I’m good for it; I’m here every weekend.” Sully spotted Neal across the aisle, unpacking used DVDs from a cardboard box. “Neal!”

Neal lifted his head. He was wearing Ron Jon sunglasses despite being indoors, in a cavernous room that was not par­ticularly well lit.

“Can she trust me?” Sully asked, holding his palms out.

Neal stabbed a finger in Sully’s direction. “You can trust that man with your life.”

From the next booth over, Samantha shouted, “And that’s the truth!” and crossed herself. Samantha was Neal’s wife, so her testimonial was somewhat redundant, but the girl with the Forest Green didn’t need to know that.

Sully turned back to the girl. She folded her arms. “I wouldn’t trust my grandma with that kind of money.”

“Hey, Sully?” Sully hadn’t noticed the kid hovering at the corner of his booth. He was twelve or thirteen, Indian, hold­ing a replica sphere—a Cherry Red. “Would you sign this?”

“Sure.” Sully reached for the replica and a Sharpie the kid offered, feeling a flush of pleasure that the girl was there to witness this.

“You sure you can trust me with this?” Sully asked as he signed.

The kid laughed.

Sully blew the ink dry, tossed the kid the Cherry Red, said, “Thanks, man. Thanks for asking.”

“What was that about?” the girl asked, motioning toward the kid, who was disappearing around a corner.

Sully held out his hand. “David Sullivan.” When the girl only looked at his hand, he added, “I’m the guy who found the Cherry Red.”

“I know who David Sullivan is.” She sounded annoyed. “A millionaire for ten minutes, until Alex Holliday’s lawyers stopped payment on the check. Tiny Tim ripped off by New York’s favorite billionaire.”

The words stung like hot sauce on a wound, but Sully couldn’t deny she was just stating the facts without any sugarcoating.

She held the Forest Green by her ear like a shot-putter. “Moving on. We got a deal? I’ll see you Saturday?”

“Tell you what.” Still trying to shake off her words, Sully took out his key ring, unlocked the display case, and pulled out his two most valuable spheres—a Lemon Yellow (grow an inch) and a Slate Gray (singing ability). Both were rarity level two; together they were worth about two sixty. “Take these as collateral. They’re worth way more than one seventy-five. I’ll trust you.”

She considered, looking down at the spheres, then back up at Sully. She scooped the spheres out of his hand and stashed them in her pack. After exchanging numbers in case one of them couldn’t make it next week, Sully counted the cash out on the table. She stuffed it in her back pocket and, finally, pressed the cool Forest Green sphere into his slightly sweaty palm.

“See you next Saturday,” she said, and turned away.

Sully watched her go, her wrists flicking as she walked.

“Hey,” he called after her.

She turned.

“What’s your name?”

She smiled. “Hunter.”

“As in, marble hunter?”

She pointed at him. “You got it.”

“Maybe we’ll do more business in the future, then?”

Hunter nodded. “Works for me if your offers are straight.”

Sully nodded. “See you Saturday.”

When Hunter was out of sight, he held the Forest Green up, rotated it, admiring.

“She’s a beauty,” Neal called over. His buzz cut always seemed wrong to Sully; his bright, open face just cried out for long, surfer-dude hair.

“I nearly choked when she pulled it out. I’ve never had a Forest Green before.”

“I wasn’t talking about the marble,” Neal said, laughing.
Sully grinned but said nothing. She was fine, no doubt about it, but not his type. Too serious. Sully liked to laugh.

“I met my first wife at a flea market.” Neal put his hand on top of his head. “She was . . . dazzling. Long auburn hair, freckles dusted across her cheeks.”

“You do know I can hear you, right?” Samantha called from behind her table, which was covered in tarot cards, crys­tals, incense.

Neal acted like he’d been jolted out of a trance. “Sorry.” He grinned at Sully. “Did I say dazzling? I meant frumpy. Face like a Mack truck. Anyway, back then I was selling Grate­ful Dead memorabilia—”

“And pirated concert tapes,” Samantha interjected.

Sully laughed. “The Grateful who?”

Neal didn’t take the bait. He knew Sully knew who the Grateful Dead were, because he’d lent Sully one of their CDs. He also knew they put Sully to sleep.

Samantha crossed the aisle and, without a word, set a sandwich wrapped in tinfoil on Sully’s table. She always made an extra for him.

“Thanks, Samantha.” She patted Sully’s shoulder as she passed.

Sully munched on a homemade meat loaf hero as Neal went on with his story. Sully wouldn’t want to trade places with Neal, but he had to admit, the guy had led an interest­ing life. Well into his sixties, he’d never had a real job with a steady paycheck. He and Samantha lived in a little camper that Sully knew well from the many times they’d invited him to hang out after the flea market closed.

After ten years of sharing an apartment with his mom, Sully’d had more than enough of living in cramped spaces. As of last Tuesday, they were in danger of losing even that. If something didn’t give, by summer they’d be living in the basement of his weird uncle Ian’s house in Pittsburgh. That couldn’t happen. It just couldn’t. Sully’s friends were in Yon­kers; his life was in Yonkers.

He tossed the Forest Green in the air and caught it, relish­ing the hard, perfect smoothness as the sphere slapped his palm. It was a start. Later, he’d call a few of his regular cus­tomers and see if anyone was interested in it. If not, he’d put it in the display case. It wouldn’t be hard to sell. The values on the rarer spheres just kept rising, and Sully kept his prices ten or fifteen percent below the big retailers’.

They’d get through this; they’d keep the apartment. In two years he’d graduate from Yonkers High with Dom by his side.

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