Tell Me More: Maybe I built things up too much in my head. After the throw-my-copy-across-the-room ending in The Madness Underneath, the next Shades oTell Me More: Maybe I built things up too much in my head. After the throw-my-copy-across-the-room ending in The Madness Underneath, the next Shades of London book set itself a high hurdle to jump. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that The Shadow Cabinet managed to scale that hurdle very well, even as it continues to set up for the final novel in the series.
Where the first two books were centred around Rory's discovery of MI5/the spooks, Shadow Cabinet finally expands upon the ghost mythology, the connection between Jane's group and the paranormal events dogging Rory's steps, and why it's so important for Rory to stay safe. Readers get a flashback to Jane's beginnings, and the people who have influenced her for almost her entire life. These characters are truly chilling, and they heighten the sense of danger in the series. That said, their appearances basically bookend the story, and I would have loved to see more of them to really cement the stakes that Rory has to face.
Unlike the first two books, however, pacing was more of an issue in The Shadow Cabinet. While there were chapters that felt almost breakneck in speed, there were others that moved much more slowly, enough that I'd have to reread some parts to make sure I hadn't forgotten a crucial piece of information. I'll also admit that the years between The Madness Underneath and Shadow Cabinet didn't help with the confusion I experienced. It was also harder to get a sense of where any of the events were happening--I found myself wondering more than once if I'd missed a sentence telling me which part of London the characters were in, because there wasn't a whole lot of description to set the scenes.
This might not sound like a big thing to consider, but it becomes an important point in regards to backstory that we gain in this novel. The titular Shadow Cabinet is dependent on geography for very specific and life-threatening reasons, and as a reader who's never been to London, I needed more reinforcement of where events were occurring so I could understand how they affected the plot.
The Final Say: Sophomore syndrome may have skipped right over onto The Shadow Cabinet, as this third installment of the Shades of London series doesn't manage to carry the momentum of the first two books forward.
Tell Me More: I was genuinely afraid to read this boYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: I was genuinely afraid to read this book, and not just because Maureen Johnson succeeded in crafting a truly creepy ghost story in The Name of the Star. Sophomore novels in general tend to be hit-or-miss for me, and as much as I was looking forward to returning to Wexford with Rory, there was no guarantee that The Madness Underneath would be as compelling a story. Fortunately, I was wrong.
Rory is not even close to being okay at the start of The Madness Underneath. She doesn't get any closer to being normal throughout the course of the book, and that ended up being one of my favourite things about the story. She's just as awkward and her actions just as instinctive as they were in Name of the Star, which helps the reader settle into the plot. She is just as confused and curious as the reader, and Johnson uses that to spring plot twist after plot twist. You never get a chance to relax while reading--the pacing never feels slow because you feel like it's all happening to you as well.
Johnson also brings back some amazing characters and I absolutely loved seeing Jazza, Stephen and Boo again. They serve as excellent foils for the strange changes in Rory, and they keep her (and in turn, the reader) grounded despite the fast turns that the plot takes. And oh, what a plot it is. Johnson's writing evokes danger on every page--I found that I was suspicious of every single new character until proven otherwise, which made for an ultra compelling reading experience. And unlike other books that are second or third in an extended series, the main mystery of The Madness Underneath is strong enough to carry the characters through without feeling forced or pointless.
The action, horror and emotional high stakes build slowly to a literally stunning ending. No, really. I threw my book across the room. Johnson isn't a writer who has ever been afraid to take risks, but I have to give her props for making me lose my breath from shock. In the rare event that you pick up The Madness Underneath and find the story lackluster, I guarantee that the ending will make you want to reread it over and over again to find hints as to what could possibly happen in the third novel.
The Final Say: The second installment of the Shades of London series will astonish and scare readers of all ages, and may actually make the YA readersphere explode with emotions.
Release Date: February 7, 2012 Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (Penguin) Age Group: Young AdulYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: February 7, 2012 Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (Penguin) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 326 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from Penguin Canada
Tell Me More: Out of all the paranormal entities in popular culture, the witch has to be my favourite. The word itself conjures (pun very much intended) up images of cauldrons and broomsticks, but it's their role as female icons that draws me in.
At first glance, the feminist dialogue seems to dog your every step--the reader can't go a page without being told that Cate and her sisters are different, that the Brotherhood would kill them if they knew their secret, that they are trapped in a patriarchal society, et cetera. The foreshadowing is also quite obvious. This emphasis does make the first half of the novel a bit tedious, and it's the reason I couldn't read the book in one sitting. I believed in the message from the start, however, and it was awesome when Cate finally grew into her own voice.
Born Wickedis a curious novel in that it never really gives the reader a charged climax. I see similarities to Marissa Meyer's Cinder: both novels are the first book in their respective series, they are narrated by wonderfully strong young women and more than anything else, they are there to set up the story for an extensive and detailed conclusion. It didn't take much to get me invested in Cate's life and I appreciated the care Jessica Spotswood took in molding her character. Her confidence and willingness to dance to her own beat is something young women should see in their own female role models. I never worried about her, because I myself was confident that she would be strong enough to deal with anything that came her way. It's so refreshing to be able to say that about a character in YA fiction.
And of course, no review of Born Wicked can go without mentioning the illustrious Finn Belastra. When I first heard about the book, my initial reaction was "Of COURSE, Cate falls in love with their gardener." It's a very common trope in romance novels, especially ones set in the Victorian or Regency era (which Born Wicked is based on). However, I was quite pleased with the direction Jessica Spotswood took in her story, and I do feel that the love story is a fulfilling one. I'm crossing my fingers against any love triangles!
That's Not All:
- So much LGBTQ love! - Okay, can I just talk about how smooth Finn is? He's redeemed that name for me.
The Final Say: Wonderful character development, intense romance and a protagonist that leaps off the page in all her glory--Born Wicked has it all!...more
Discovery: I am a jar and proud of it. Maureen Johnson is one of my favourite authors and this new series is just what I’ve been looking for.
+ Ghosts.Discovery: I am a jar and proud of it. Maureen Johnson is one of my favourite authors and this new series is just what I’ve been looking for.
+ Ghosts. Bless the day this book was published, because I’ve been waiting for a great ghost story for ages! Vampires and werewolves and angels do nothing for me, but ghosts? There’s a gold mine that’s just dying (HA HA) to be explored. I loved how random the situation seems to be: a Southern girl moves to London for ten months and comes face-to-face with Jack the Ripper. There aren’t any tired old cliches or tributes to successful ghost stories here. Maureen Johnson expertly ties together her own mythology and sprinkles it with a healthy dose of historical accuracy, making for a romp of a tale. Of course, the reader is haunted (it’s just too easy) by a question right at the start: what is “the name of the star?” The answer is a brilliant play on words that all readers will enjoy.
+ Humour. I’m going to point this out even though most people who’ve read an MJ book already know how funny she is. It’s not a ha-ha kind of humour, but more like a snicker and a shared look of woe over how no one else seems to get it but that’s fine, that’s fine, we are all safe and happy in our jars and troosers. A lot of the things I laughed at were one-liners and references to other books or TV shows that I wasn’t expecting. If you know me well, you’ll know why I burst out laughing during the costume party scene. It was a great balancing act and one that Maureen succeeds at with aplomb.
+ Smart, snappy writing. The MJ books I’ve loved most were ones narrated in the third-person, like The Bermudez Triangle and Suite Scarlett. Naturally, the discovery of Rory’s first-person perspective surprised me. It worked well for the story–the reader needs to feel that connection to Rory and what she’s going through. I also enjoyed the voice MJ employed because of its innocence and wry intelligence.
There have been some complaints that the first 100 pages were mostly exposition and not enough action. I can see why they might say that, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. It’s clear that the story needed that kind of extended set-up for the rest of the novel to work. One thing I’ve always liked about MJ’s books are that they are very easy to read. You’re not struggling to understand overly lyrical prose, but at the same time, her personality shines through. I love it when books shine a light on the writers behind them, because they give the story new dimensions.
Recommendations: Teen and adult readers will both enjoy this gritty and enthralling ghost story from the Queen of Danube, Maureen Johnson. No promises that you won’t want the second book in the Shades of London series IMMEDIATELY after reading.