Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson

I hate you, Maureen Johnson. How could you do this to me? How could you leave The Madness Underneath on such an exquisitely painful cliffhanger? Grrr.

Picking up shortly after the edge-of-the-seat events of The Name of the Star, the first title in Johnson’s Shades of London series, The Madness Underneath continues this immensely enjoyable series.

And The Name of the Star has everything you’d expect from a young adult book, yet it is something a little different too: little bit gothic, little bit thriller, little bit supernatural, little bit ‘coming of age’. Yet each is in perfect balance with one another; each aspect has plenty of breathing space without overwhelming the storyline. Rory is American, but has just joined London boarding school Wexford. While adapting to her new surroundings, new friends, new expectations, on the city doorstep a creepy and brutal series of murders is taking place. Murders with unexplained aspects; murders with suspicious similarities to those committed by Jack the Ripper over a century ago. Ripper fever sweeps across town and, when Rory becomes an unwitting witness, her life is turned upside down: not only does it mean she gets introduced to the ‘Shades’, an under-the-radar crime unit of the British police, but she also becomes one of the murderer’s targets.

In The Madness Underneath, it has been several weeks since Rory’s ordeal at Wexford came to its dramatic conclusion. She’s at her parent’s house in Bristol, recuperating and trying to come to terms with everything that happened. This, though, is not an easy process, especially when (a) she can’t disclose any real information about her experiences to her shrink, and (b) she is completely cut off from the only people she can talk to – and needs to talk to. So when her shrink advises to her get back on the horse, per say, and go back to Wexford, she figures it’s just as good an idea as any other.

But the events of The Name of the Star have changed Rory. She has lost the outgoing, happy-go-lucky, anything-goes type of personality she had before. Now, everything feels wrong and nothing seems to go right. She can’t explain to her friends or teachers what's wrong, and she sees trouble where maybe there isn’t any. Or is there? Johnson let’s us know early on that all is not quite right in London, but what exactly does this indicate? And who is this fairy godmother character that formerly up-tight Charlotte introduces Rory to? Is she really who she appears to be?

Madness is not as heavily plotted as Star, and instead of focusing predominantly on one major storyline, it develops the characters and deals with the aftermath of book one. It is almost a quieter book; Johnson doesn’t build the tension to quite the same heights or around one particular event, building it instead around several different undercurrents - the madness running under the streets of London, the madness that may or may not be being hidden by Rory’s new friends, and the madness underneath Rory’s own skin as she tries to figure why she feels so lost and what the heck to do about it.

Will Rory be able to figure things out? And what will the future of the Shades be? And the cliffhanger? Well, after spending a goodly chunk of the book hoping for Rory and another character to figure out their feelings, Maureen Johnson goes and turns it all upside down in the most devastating of ways. Not only is she one of the smartest and savviest of voices around, she clearly has some grand plan for the Shades of London and I really can’t wait to find out what it is.

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