The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Can I be honest? I feel... a bit manipulated. I am going through a horrible reading slump right now, so I know that I am a lot less tolerant than I would have been prior to this dry spell. So my review of this book might be a bit harsher. I feel that despite my rather harsh criticism, I am being fair and respectful, which are crucial to me as a reviewer.
I loved the first book, The Name of the Star, and I gave it five stars. I actually thought it was quite brilliant. In comparison, my feelings are not complimentary for this second book.
I am on the edge of giving up YA books because of reasons that this book sort of ties into. So forgive the segueway. I'll get back to my review in a little bit:
1) I am so sick of love triangles (this one doesn't quite have an in your face one. It's more of an obtuse triangle if anything).
2) Oh the high school drama! I am just sick of the whole high school setting, to be honest. This book isn't so bad in that sense.
3)So, so, so heartily sick of cliffhangers. Now this is where I felt manipulated. That ending was just wrong with this book. Not well done, and contrived. I think it ended this way so she could have a springboard for the next book. I'm not Maureen Johnson and so I don't get to tell her to write her books. But that was just pain unnecessary. If I could issue a plea to YA authors, stop the madness with this terrible, meaningless cliffhangers. You can write a series without them. If the publishers are behind this conspiracy, tell them no!
Okay, back to the book.
So I mentioned above how I was not feeling the ending. I was actually quite mad when I finished this book. I am doing a Bible Study and we talked about anger today, so I was glad I got that lesson prior to finishing this book. I was able to process my anger and determine the reasons for it. I felt manipulated and abused. I felt frustrated. I think that processing the anger has made me better able to review this book, but my reasons for feeling anger still stand.
The storyline itself was okay. However, it lacked the pizazz and the strength of the last book. It was meandering and rather dull in comparison. The word ennui is perfect for this feeling I had when I read this book. Although I can understand Rory being in a fog after the trauma she suffered, the feeling of malaise seemed to affect the whole narrative, and I didn't feel a sense of purpose or momentum as I read this novel. That was highly disappointing and contrasts very negatively with the first book, which has such a powerful, chilling atmosphere of menace that I found wonderfully effective . I had a feeling that this new character and her connection with Rory was going to lead to disaster, and I was right about that. But I'm not sure I really care, you know?
What I liked just as much as the first book was the atmosphere, the presence of London as a character in this novel. It makes me want to jump on a plane and go to England right now. In fact, London was more distinctive than the actual main character, which is a shame, because I love Rory. In this book, Johnson seems to be going through the motions in her characterization of Rory. She is blunted and hard to connect to her as a main character in this novel. My absolute Achilles' heel as a reader is that I can be so drawn into a story that I feel utter empathy for a character, if the writer is able to bring this character to life for me. With Rory, that connection established in The Name of the Star felt so attenuated, it hurt this read for me. Also, with such vibrant characters as Boo and Callum, they felt almost like the Shades of London they concern themselves with. Other important secondary characters, the same. And Stephen, well, he's one of my favorite characters, and even he didn't feel as real to me in this book, although I still love him.
Maureen Johnson established herself as a very admirable suspense writer with the first book in this series and "The Law of Suspects", a short story I had the pleasure of reading as my introduction to her. I feel she was off her game with this book. That ability to catch a reader and lead them down a dark, twisted path wasn't as evident in this book. My biggest reaction is that she was going through the motions. As a result, this reader is dismayed and disappointed.
Will I read the next book? With that ending, I have to do so. But my expectations are very low at this point.
Please up your game with the next book, Ms. Johnson. I need to know that you can finish what you started in this series successfully.
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