February 26, 2013 by Heidi
Title: 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)