Written by: Maureen Johnson
Book 2 / 3 of the Shades of London series
Review: 2.5 / 5 stars
Summary (** DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT READ “THE NAME OF THE STAR”**): After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Deveaux 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 to get back to her friends. 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.
“There is no normal. I’ve never met a normal person. The concept is flawed. It implies that there is only one way people are supposed to be, and that can’t possible be true. Human experience is far too varied.”
Review: So, as I’m sure all of you have noticed, I picked this book up almost immediately after reading its predecessor, The Name of the Star, which is pretty rare for me. As I said in the review for that novel, I fell in love with the world of Rory Deveaux and the London Shades, a secret British Ghostbusters-type crew. What I kind of enjoyed about this second book is that I didn’t have certain expectations of it besides a hopeful continuation of character development, as the first book did a good job answering all plot questions and tying it up in a nice bow. However, I still had hopes and dreams – and a lot of those fell short. I wanted more character development. I wanted more scenery descriptions. I wanted Rory to grow up, meant both in a nice way and a rude way in the sense that her character kind of annoyed me in the first novel. At least my hopes and dreams are still holding for the next book, because they were definitely not fulfilled in The Madness Underneath, which, by the way, is a title that is never explained.
One notable plus about this book is that Johnson’s quality of writing as far as descriptions of characters and scenery go seems to have improved, at least a little bit. Let’s put it this way – I had been imagining the character Stephen as Henry Ian Cusick, only to realize that he was way closer to Rory’s age than I had realized. Now, I imagine him as Callard Harris or Ryan Eggold. Major oops, but that’s fine. The actual construction of Johnson’s writing, however, seems to have crumbled. The book is split into two parts, and they almost read like two separate books entirely. There was a promising plotline in the first book that I thought was going to go somewhere significant, but was solved in some meaningless scene and never mentioned again. As for the second book, there are two plotlines vying for the reader’s attention, and while both solid plotlines, the book is too short to have both of these ideas sharing the same space. Additionally, too much of the book is Rory stressing out over exams and therapy and telling people she’s fine which would be notable if she wasn’t fine… but she kind of is. Although her schooling is going a little questionably, otherwise, she’s doing relatively well, so I think Johnson misappropriated too much of the story explaining just how okay Rory was doing. As for the ending of the book, I think it is an incredible plot twist and I can’t wait to see what decision Rory makes in regard to the boundaries her powers should have, but the reasoning behind it infuriates me. I can name on one hand the number of relationship developments that I thought the book would be better without, relationship developments that seem like a cheap plot device or an unnecessary aid to the current drama, and Johnson wrote a relationship that fits onto that hand. All in all, the plot has some very interesting points, but they all feel too scattered, too underdeveloped, or too overly dramatic to really sink home properly.
Like I said above, the biggest plus about this book was that I felt Johnson provided a little more character development, at least in regards to Rory and the Shades. Rory is still a character I don’t feel any particular emotional tie to, as she makes some incredibly juvenile and idiotic decisions that had me physically rolling her eyes and shifting uncomfortably as I read her angst-filled thoughts, but at least she seemed to get a little bit funnier and more confident in this novel. She did seem to get a little bit smarter as well, including showing her doing some research that I thought was an unexpectedly poignant scene showing her dedication to the cause, but that does not make me forget about other completely asinine things she does. The one thing saving Rory from my hate list is the fact that instead of leading on her boyfriend, she dumped him because she didn’t feel anything strong for him despite feeling comfortable around him, and then was still a badass independent woman after that. Beyond that, I was hoping to see more Callum and Boo in the novel, and was a little disappointed when they just kind of showed up as secondary characters to some of the plots. One of my favorite scenes was with Callum and Rory sneaking out into the tunnels where Rory basically told Callum that she didn’t want to harm ghosts who weren’t harming others, and Callum showed his true disgust for ghosts, which I think comes from a very reasonable place but is also incredibly sad. The real star of this book, in my opinion, was Stephen. I think the reason I had always imagined Stephen as being considerably older than Callum, Boo, and Rory is because he has that fatherly air about him, or at least that of an older brother, when it comes to dealing with The Shades, which is why I was genuinely confused and annoyed with where he ended up toward the end of the book. The “antagonists” of this book shall remain unnamed because spoilers, but I think they were actually some of the best written characters in the book and I canNOT wait to see where the next book shows them. I’ll keep it at that to prevent more spoilers.
All in all, this book definitely fell short of the expectations I had from the first, and definitely falls into the second book slump category for me. Although the introduction of the new characters is definitely very promising, the plot tried to go in too many directions for me to feel attached to any particular one. The ending of the book was startling, mostly because it had nothing to do with the main plot of the book, but I am excited to see the development of Rory through this mortal obstacle. This book is a classic sophomore slump kind of novel, but it still kept me interested in the world of Shades and where they’ll go next, so I can’t wait to pick up the next book!