Book Review & Giveaway: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
PROS:rory is such a charming narrator, she almost makes up for middle book syndrome; supporting characters become more beloved
CONS:unresolved mysteries; cliffhanger angst
A middle book that feels like a series transition, but makes up for the lack of resolution with charming characters and a creepy, thrilling atmosphere.
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. While the first book, The Name of the Star, was a smart, thrilling mystery with a solid resolution that could function as a standalone, book two is more of a transition story for the series. Most of the ghostly mysteries are left open-ended, and one development at the end is so massively disruptive, it seems the only thing to do after such a revelation is to write “The End” and wait for reader tears and freakouts to start rolling in.
If this book’s mission is to set up several new plot threads and characters to carry into book three, and to function as a bit of a love letter to the characters we already know, it worked quite well. I came away loving Rory, Stephen, Callum and Boo even more, and eagerly awaiting the next bit of their story.
Rory is definitely my favorite of all of Maureen Johnson’s characters. She rambles endearingly and is full of bizarre, folksy Louisiana anecdotes. She’s pretty much a giant ball of awkward hilarity, and I liked seeing the frightening paranormal side of London through her eyes. She lightens the heavy mood and the world of the Shades is a bit more exciting with her in it. I love that she’s developed this wonderfully powerful paranormal ability, but she is still such a normal girl, with all the issues and insecurities you might expect from someone who has been recently filleted by a lunatic ghost. While much of her time at Wexford is slow and doesn’t really move the plot, it does help develop her into a more 3D, well-rounded character.
“Now it was awkward. Never get stabbed—it make everything awkward.”
Stephen continues to do his imposing, slightly-more-human-than-Benedict-Cumberbatch-in-Sherlock thing. So of course I have a gigantic crush on him. Basically every time I turned the page, I would quickly scan to see if I saw his name, and if I did, I would speed read like a mad thing until I got to him. If I didn’t see imminent Stephen scenes, I could be cool and read normally.
“This is England,” he explained. “Tell someone it’s a procedure, and they’ll believe you. the pointless procedure is one of our great natural resources.”
Callum and Boo don’t get a ton of action in the book (it’s really quite a short book, compared to book one), but the few encounters we do get made me remember how much I loved them. I kept hoping we’d leave the Wexford crew behind (though I do love Jazza, and think Jerome is nice enough) and focus more on the Shades. It’s a bit hard for them to do much of anything without their termini, but they are determined to keep Shadin’. I have to respect that, but it would have been nice if they’d had more to do in this book. I’m curious to see where Maureen takes them in book three, especially given that WTF development at the end.
I enjoyed reading The Madness Underneath, and am heavily invested in the series story and the characters, but I do feel like I was dropped out of the action just when things started getting really interesting. Call it a cliffhanger, or stopping mid-stream for a breather, whatever you like—my angst over the ending is the same, and now I’m dreading the painfully long wait for book three.
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