“The Grim Reaper doesn’t disappear….he catches up.”
At first glance of the tagline, I can already tell that I am in for a thrilling ride; an epic tale of intrigue, action and the involvement of life versus death, written by a Messiah of modern day writing, American-born author Patrick Carman. But first impressions are never the solid truth. 13 Days to Midnight is far more than what I expected. Quoted as a hybrid of Stephen King’s “Carrie”, Unbreakable, Flatliners, and Donnie Darko, Patrick Carman has delivered something that is truly spectacular.
As Patrick Carman’s first foray into young adult fiction, 13 Days to Midnight began as a high-school fantasy, inspired by the likes of iconic comic books he read as a teenager. Quite different from his previous works, the superpower cleverly acts as a backdrop against a powerful love story, told in first-person perspective through the eyes of a high school senior. Upon reading, 13DTM is a much more mature storyline than the previous Carman books have never before explored. Providing this maturity is where the story really shines: the characters.
There are only a few central characters in the storyline; positive or negative, this helps the reader connect far more personally than usual.
The main character, Jacob Fielding, is an average Catholic high-school student; an orphan, as the story explains. Thankfully, the time it spends on his back-story and the relationship with his foster parent, known only as Mr. Fielding, is decidedly brief. Some of the dialogue-heavy moments such as these in the beginning prove to be a bit slow. However, these moments (or flashbacks) are crucial, as it helps the pipeline of the plot move forward. Jacob is a normal kid, or just as normal as he wants to be. When 13DTM starts, he is reeling from the shock of a horrific car crash that has taken the life of his foster parent. But something is not right; Jacob hides a deadly secret.
Within the paradigm of the story is his best friend Milo, a reserved voice of reason that sticks by him at all times. Friendship is hard to earn in times like these, but unfortunately, the superpower threatens to rip it apart. And then there’s the beautiful and alluring Ophelia James, who is introduced early on in the story. Almost immediately, Jacob feels a strong pull towards her, a mesmerizing scent that dazzles him. It is this attraction that forces him to reveal the truth of his secret.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Right off the bat, readers are asked this thoughtful question; because really, as it says, any superpower can bring in heaps of additional trouble. Unfortunately, his power also proves to be the spectre of a curse.
For Jacob is indestructible. Not only that, but he can also pass this power on to other people. This is what reveals his secret, and this is why he emerged from the car crash physically unscathed. The reactions from his two friends are different; once again, this shows Mr. Carman’s gifts as a writer to create multi-layered characters. Oh proposes to use this blessing of a power to save and help other people in need; Milo, on the other hand, is slightly more cautious. They agree to go through with their plan, on the risk of being caught. But like always, things take a wrong turn and the game becomes a battlefield. How do you choose who is worthy to save and who should die? Is it even fair, to hold the power of Death in your bare hands?
In this book, I realized that everything has a balance: love and hate, life and death, and good and evil. How do you know when to tip this balance? These are teenagers making life-threatening decisions; one wrong choice and it could change everything. The blood shall be on your hands. It is morally shocking as it is downright disturbing at times; this is not a joke. Everything is fatal, and Patrick Carman has communicated this perfectly throughout.
13DTM not only makes good use of its characters, but also the concept of which it is based in, the rain-swept streets of Salem, Oregon. Most of these locations are based on true events or experiences the author had, used as foreshadowing techniques or synchronization with the story. Coffin Books is one of my favourite areas that the book took place in, reclusively often. As a hideout for the main characters, the dreary and gothic library was reminiscent of a darker and more realistic Batcave. It is their territory, and as the book flies along, Jacob begins to feel uncomfortable even here in familiar surroundings. The mood only gets grimmer; the book is set over a thirteen day period and as the clock ticks down, tensions rise to an explosive (and unpredictable) finale.
In terms of cover design, the book is marvellous. Sleek and glossy, the cover is symbolically accurate to the book itself. A paved narrow road is shown, retracting to the light horizon. At the end stands a teenage boy, outfitted in common clothing. Tire tracks run parallel, leading from his feet to the forefront of the road. In my opinion, I dissected this as Jacob leaving behind the regretful burdens and sinister sins of his past. It also illustrates the effect a certain car crash will have on his life forever.
In the end, 13DTM is largely a story on temptation. It examines the facets of a character, and their moral code. What do they value largest: the calling of power, or the relationship between friends and family? It is not sometimes who or how many you save; it is rather a question of why you decide to use it. Before long, indestructibility can become addicting, like walking through fire or being immune to a public beating. However, once it becomes too addicting, or one becomes too cocky, then the world will crumble as a rule is crossed. It is human perception to seek above and beyond; with indestructibility, there is no limit to this fact. Power is unpredictable, and it is liable to betray you in the moment you need it most. A person either dies a hero, or lives long enough to become corrupted as a villain.
With 13 Days to Midnight, Patrick Carman has created an unpredictable examination of how far someone is willing to go to save someone they cherish. Like a double-edged sword, it shows the morality between the good and evil in everybody, and a force more powerful than even indestructibility: pure and unconditional love.
By Daniel Goodman