Twelve Minutes to Midnight
London, Nosy Crow, 2012, 254p
Twelve Minutes to Midnight, set in 1899, is a story about a madness that sweeps through London, seeping into the lives of literary greats (Arthur Conan Doyle and H G Wells are referred to more than once). Penelope Treadwell is the author and editor of a penny journal, but hides behind the name of Montgomery Flinch.
Penelope is an inspiring hero. What I like about a lot of teen fiction is that the reader is regularly reminded that the hero is in fact only a child, or a teenager. In Penny's case, her youth and her gender prevent her from being able to independently investigate the recent phenomenon. Instead, she has to be escorted by her uncle or other unsuspecting gentlemen, who she drags along to Bedlam and into imminent danger. She, of course, is fearless.
I'm a bit of a sucker for Gothic literature, and I go weak at the knees when stories are set in the Victorian era, so this was an all-round winner. There are deadly spiders, ghostly noblewomen, and futuristic prophecies, all in a race against time.
I don't want to give too much away, because something I really enjoyed about this book was the twists and turns. I thought it was never going to end. At one point, Edge seemed to be tying all the strings together, but I still had 60 pages to read - and what a treat those pages were!
The aforementioned madness characterises itself in the scrawlings of its victims. Hence the repeated references to contemporary authors. When an individual falls under the spell of madness, they wake at twelve minutes to midnight and write on anything they can find. And what do they write? Prophecies of the coming century - increasing industrialisation, the invention of the airplane, wars, terrorist plots, and more. The reader may have to remind themselves that this novel is set in 1899, otherwise they may not understand the importance of the twentieth century events.
I had a lot of fun reading Twelve Minutes to Midnight - and that is something that can't really be said about a lot of books. It indulged my personal interests, but it was also well-written and addictive - I think it has something for everyone.