Review: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson


February 26, 2013 by Heidi

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson book coverTitle: The Madness Underneath [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Maureen Johnson [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Book two in the Shades of London series.
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction, Paranormal
Published: February 26th, 2013 by Putnam Juvenile
Format: Hardcover; 304 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley.
Spoilers!: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for book one, The Name of the Star, so go read that first!

After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Devereaux has been living in Bristol under the close watch of her parents. So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory jumps at the chance. But Rory’s brush with the Ripper touched her more than she thought possible: she’s become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades—the city’s secret ghost-fighting police—are responsible for her return. The Ripper may be gone, but now there is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory has evidence that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it’s too late.

In this follow-up to the Edgar Award-nominated The Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson adds another layer of spectacularly gruesome details to the streets of London that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

After loving Maureen Johnson from afar, largely via her very entertaining Twitter feed, I was thrilled that she was venturing into the world of speculative fiction by delving into the horror of Jack the Ripper, ghosts, and mystery via a London boarding school and secret police force.  That’s much more up my alley than her usual contemporary route.  Not only did I thoroughly enjoy The Name of the Star, I didn’t forget about it, and am still constantly recommending it to readers over a year later.  Needless to say, I was very much anticipating the follow up, spurred on by the much approved cover makeover of the series to the creepy shadowy goodness you see above.  And so, I am sad to report, that The Madness Underneath is the greatest disappointment of 2013 thus far.  It may not be the most egregious offender of the second book slump scenario, but between the let down and my complete non-support of where Johnson is aiming to take this series, I’m afraid the Shades of London and I are at an impasse.

The Madness Underneath doesn’t lack for entertainment value.  As with its predecessor, Rory’s story completely sucks you in.  Johnson’s writing flows with ease and humor, and I honest to goodness had no idea how little was actually happening in this book until I was nearly 3/4 of the way through.  I was kicking back and enjoying the set up so much, I didn’t realize that there wasn’t really much of a story.  Once I did, I felt deflated–but this does spell promise for other reader’s ability to just enjoy and not pick at The Madness Underneath as I am about to.

So here are my issues with The Madness Underneath:

  • What happened to the rest of that cast we loved?  In book one, I had such a great time getting to know the Shades, the ghosts, and Rory’s frienimies at Wexford Academy.  They’re still here in The Madness Underneath, but only in a very shallow surface sense.  Rory is so self-involved for the entirety of this book, that these other characters are no longer players themselves, but mere props.  Which brings me to the fact that…
  • This book is largely angst disguised as character development.  Yes, Rory goes through some growing pains in The Madness Underneath that are undoubtedly integral to who she will be as a character as the series continues, but I felt as if Johnson flip-flopped the proper ordering of things.  In my mind, this development should have been an accessory to the plot, and not the other way around.
  • The plot was scattered.  Why bother giving us a preface that sets up a potentially awesome new creepy plot when you’re going to essentially solve this issue quickly and move on to something completely different and unrelated?  When there are revelations later on in the story that were very loosely tied back to this beginning plot, it seemed an afterthought rather than well-planned.  The first part of this book had only a very fragile connection to the second part, making it seem as if there really wasn’t the material here for a complete book–it’s just another strained stretch of a set-up for book three shoved into its own binding.
  • The last 30% of the book…this is the section that sets up for book three rather than creating any sort of finalized story for book two (or rather, the only part of the book with a real plot).  Rory goes from a girl struggling to deal with a jilting realignment of her personal expectations as well as the expectations of everyone she knows to an idiot who throws everything out the window on a whim.  I realize that teenagers are impulsive and moody and make mistakes, but Rory’s path is baffling to me as it seems completely out of character, despite her angsty developments in this book.  I felt Johnson created a convenient excuse for this rather than actually justifying it.  Perhaps this wouldn’t be so upsetting if I felt there had been more of a build up or connection with the beginning of the book–unfortunately, there wasn’t.
  • The ending.  I’ll admit it, this one I can’t blame on Johnson so much as acknowledge that it’s personal.  Some readers will love this unexpected turn of events, but I hated the ending of this book.  Please someone else who’s read it contact me via Twitter or Goodreads so that I can complain about the absolute eye-rollyness of it without spoiling it for those yet to read.  Note: It is not an open/cliffhanger ending for those who may be concerned since that is indeed what usually sets off my rage meter–it’s a twist.  

Alas, I have to acknowledge that one of the double edged swords of book blogging is that it has caused me to become a much more critical reader.  Had I read The Madness Underneath directly after finishing The Name of the Star a year and a half ago, I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt struck with the disappointment that I felt today.  Yes, there were things I loved about it–the fact that Rory can have relationships that don’t have to be true love (heck, they don’t have to be love at all), the humor, the creepy edge of knowing and seeing what few others can.  I can see many readers greatly enjoying this one, I, however, toss it unceremoniously onto the second book slump pile of series I have abandoned.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Honestly, I’m calling it quits after this mass disappointment.  Unless I hear only absolutely amazing and redeeming things about The Shadow Cabinet, I am out.

Recommended for:  Most readers who enjoyed The Name of the Star seem to really dig the sequel as well (though nobody seems to think it’s as good), so please check it out if you enjoyed the first, despite my experience!

Get a second opinion:
The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh – “I give this an A because I like mysteries and I like kissing, and this book does both…However, the REAL reason this book gets an A is the ending. It was like BAM, out of nowhere, my jaw dropped.”
Alice, Marvels – “Sometimes, no matter how much you love a series sequel, it still gives you the middle book blues, and The Madness Underneath has given me a pretty epic case.”

I’ve also reviewed:
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (Shades of London 1)


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  1. kit says:

    I’ve been debating whether or not to pick this up, mostly because I was a little bit on the fence about the first book – I enjoyed it, but it didn’t leave me desperate to find out what happened next. I might give this one a miss for the time being – although I’m interested in the fact that they’ve changed the ending of this one, I don’t think I’ve ever been aware of that happening before!

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, if you were iffy on the first book, I’d say you’re best off waiting to see how the series goes before you become invested. I don’t know how much the ending has changed yet, I’m dying to find out!

  2. Oh, man, I’m so glad I didn’t waste my time on this. I was lukewarm about The Name of the Star, and I am definitely not into shallow secondary characters or angst over plot. Thanks for your thorough review!

  3. Oh this makes me sad! I am still going to give this one a go though. I’m with you in loving book one, and having high hopes for this one. I loved the combination of Rory’s wit and the creepy London ghost setting. Do you think that this reads more like a transition book and that book 3 and 4 could be great again? Or are you thinking that the whole series is going to go downhill? I enjoyed Rory and her school friends, but the characters I LOVED were the ghost hunters she meets. I’m disappointed that it seems like they aren’t in this one as much. I actually wasn’t into her make out relationship with that boy at all…I can’t even remember his name, and I thought he wasn’t important once she was able to see ghosts. But I’m all over Stephen. I’m really intrigued about the fact that the ending changes. Does that occur a lot in ARCs? I’ll read a finished copy and want to know what about it is different, so will probably email you when I get my hands on it. Sorry this disappointed you so much!

    • Also, I am very interested in the comment you made about reading books back to back vs. stretching them out and adding in lots of expectations. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and how it DOES color how I read a story. I know we’ve talked about it before.

      • Heidi says:

        YES–I remember you mentioning this effect when reading Boundless. It’s one of the reasons I don’t read a lot of series until they’re complete–I’m almost always much happier to read them in a short period of time. It totally influences how I read/enjoy a story, and I know there are series I’ve enjoyed more because I didn’t have to wait (like Gemma Doyle).

    • Heidi says:

      I hope you do still give it a go, Lauren, particularly a finished copy! I loved the creepiness of book one, and this one started out on a GREAT note, but then fell flat for me. This is certainly more of a transition book (which I hate), and the way it’s set up promises much more action in the next book. Stephen, Callum, and Boo are my FAVORITE part of this series (I honestly don’t even like Rory that much). Total Stephen fangirl–I’d LOVE to hear what you think of this one!

      I’ve only heard of major plot changes from ARC to final copy a couple of times. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. (Like, I know the ending of For Darkness Shows the Stars changed from ARC to final copy).

      • Oh tell me how the end of For Darkness Shows the Stars changed! I didn’t know about that. I will definitely let you know my thoughts on this when I read it.

        • Heidi says:

          I don’t know!! I still haven’t read it. I have the ARC, but I’ll probably check it out from the library when I get around to reading it and then compare notes. I don’t think it was a huge plot change, but I do know it was different. 😛

  4. Now I’m just completely torn over this series! I haven’t read anything by Maureen before, which is why I wanted to pick this up – and I suspect I will – but maybe since I’ll be reading these first two novels back-to-back, I’ll wind up enjoying them a little more. I’m sorry this disappointed you, Heidi, so much so that you won’t continue the trilogy, but thanks for your honest review. I can hopefully enjoy this a bit more by keeping your qualms in perspective and I’m thrilled you loved the first book so much! :)

    • Heidi says:

      I really liked the first book, and it works as a stand alone, so I STILL recommend that, even if I don’t necessarily recommend continuing on with the series. We’ll see though, honestly, if the ending was changed a lot in the final copy, it might be enough for me to continue on.

  5. Lauren says:

    Wonderful review! I have to agree, I was enjoying Rory’s narration and the world so much, when I realized the story was really going to end where it did, I was disappointed. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Maureen wrote a really long book and her editor said, hey, how about we stretch this into two books instead?

    I am sure if I read the whole series back to back I wouldn’t mind as much. I’m still sticking with the series, though. I love the characters, and hopefully they’ll get a better turn in book three. Wonderful review!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Lauren! That’s exactly how if felt to me–like it wasn’t a complete book. I’m going to have to find a finished copy of this and check it out before I officially call off my relationship with Shades of London–we shall see!

  6. Oh, this is disappointing, Heidi! I’ve really been looking forward to this book too because I loved The Name of the Star (and love Johnson’s books in general.) I think this line from your review perplexes me the most:

    “Why bother giving us a preface that sets up a potentially awesome new creepy plot when you’re going to essentially solve this issue quickly and move on to something completely different and unrelated?”

    Uh oh. I loved the twist at the ending of TNotS and was really looking forward to what would come out of it in the next book.

    Because my little library is very Maureen Johnson-friendly I’ll still be reading this one but I am bummed that it didn’t score higher with you.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah…it was hard to talk about this one in detail without getting spoilery, but it just went too many directions for me. I’m interested to hear your thoughts, and do hope that you still pick it up! It wasn’t a bad reading experience, it just had so many issues.

  7. Wow — reviewed this today and now dying to know what the change in ending could be. I mean, that ending was really surprising. Hmmmmm…..

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I read your review! I’m so interested to find out what’s changed as well, I have a final copy on hold from the library so that I can read it and find out. 😛

  8. VeganYANerds says:

    Oh no :( I’ve skimmed this as I’m yet to read it, but I too really enjoyed TNoTS and it’s been a series I’ve been wanting to continue with. I have a copy and plan on reading it soon but will keep my expectations low. Great review, hun

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Mandee–I’m interested to see what you think of it when you read it! I haven’t run across anyone else who was as disappointed as I was, so it may have been a timing thing and hopefully you’ll fair better.

  9. HMM okay, talk to me…I have book 1 and I got book 2 from NG..I was going to just read them back to back. No? Waste of time? I love her on Twitter (which I know sounds so silly) so I was really looking forward to loving her books. Plus Jack the Ripper?! I am sorry you didn’t love this one!

    • Heidi says:

      Book one–YES, definitely read it, it’s awesome. It also works as a stand alone, so you can always stop there. Book two…pretty much everyone has enjoyed it more than me, and I DO think that if you didn’t have to wait a year and a half building up expectations you wouldn’t be so disappointed.

  10. Michelle says:

    I just finished this and consulted GR to see if anyone else had the same reaction as me. Your review was the first I saw and I have to say I agreed with everything! I read both books in the series back to back and I was not overly impressed with Name of the Star and really unimpressed by Madness Underneath. It’s not just you!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Michelle! Always nice to know I’m not alone. 😛

      Also good to know it wasn’t just because I’d waiting a year and half for this book to come out. I appreciate MJ’s humor, but that doesn’t make this worth my time. D:

  11. […] Coffee And Wizards – “Maureen Johnson’s novels are a force of their own that must be experienced to be believed.” The Book Smugglers – “it suffers from a disconnected plot and Middle Book Syndrome.” Bunbury In The Stacks – “I’m afraid the Shades of London and I are at an impasse.” […]

  12. Atifa says:

    I completely agree with you about this book. I loved the first one but having just finished reading the second, I feel rather deflated. So I inevitably googled reviews thinking that surely SOMEONE somewhere would feel the same way!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Atifa! I’m so happy that there are other readers out there who felt the same about this one as I did. Just SO disappointing.

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.