Saturday, November 17, 2012

In Which I Review an ARC of the "The Madness Underneath" by Maureen Johnson

So I haven't posted in AGES (never posted about my summer in London or anything else) but I've been wanting to write a review of Maureen Johnson's The Madness Underneath (Book 2 of the Shades of London series) ever since I got an ARC of it in October. I read it but of course never got around to writing up the review because not only am I an IDIOT but I have ZERO time what with student teaching and my thesis and two crazy reading-intensive history courses and work to do ANYTHING. However, I just went on Tumblr today and saw that OMG Maureen Johnson responded to me on Tumblr saying she would check it out when I posted it, so I'm gathering my notes and re-reading my favorite parts and writing ASAP.

What follows is a non-spoilery review for Maureen Johnson's The Madness Underneath which is officially coming out in the US February 2013. This is the second book in the brain-burstingly amazing Shades of London series and I was able to score an ARC of it at NYCC.

I do not like this cover AT ALL. Will show the UK cover (which I love more) at the end as a bonus.

While I was living and studying in London for the month of June, I was so careful about money that I hardly bought anything but food, food, and more food (hey, I'm practical). But sometime near the end of the month, I went with a few friends (David, Kayla, and Alexis, if I remember correctly) and we took the Tube to Central to check out the famous Harrods, which is bright and gorgeous and TOTALLY OVERPRICED. We got lost about 50 times and finally came out on a totally different side and shuffled into Waterstones for comfort. Waterstones, for those who don't know, is a a really excellent bookstore chain in the UK that has some pretty ridiculously good sales. I was grabbing up Philippa Gregory books in a devil-may-care way when I found The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. I've been a big fan of Maureen Johnson since I was a teenager and first read The Key to the Golden Firebird, but somehow had never gotten around to reading her latest book, so I picked it up.

I DO love MJ, but I will be honest and say this exceptionally gorgeous cover was a huge incentive. The US cover made me always say "next time" but this one just screamed "buy me NOW". Also, JACK THE RIPPER asdfghjkl;'.

I didn't read Name of the Star till I was home and spending my days lying on a bed missing England, which in retrospect was a bad idea (so much heartache!!). To sum up Star before we move on to Madness--teenage American from Louisiana, Rory Deveaux, goes to study at a London boarding school just when Jack-the-Ripper-esque murders begin again. It's clear that MJ has spent a lot of time in London (even if I didn't know that from her blog already) because Rory's exploration and travels throughout London are incredibly detailed. Having spent a lot of time in Whitechapel (Jack the Ripper tours are the best thing ever) where Rory's (fictional) school, Wexford, is located, I could just so easily picture everything, and the descriptions of the Tube stations were perfectly accurate (oh Charing Cross I heart you). As realistic as the setting is, the story itself is a thrillingly creepy supernatural adventure, replete with ghosts and seriously unsettling murders.

Spoiler-free wrap-up to bring you up to speed: After a near-death experience, Rory gains the ability to see the dead coincidentally while a Jack the Ripper wannabe is running rampant. Her best friend Jazza thinks she's seeing crazy things and her crush Jerome is filling her head with Ripper facts--then Rory meets Boo, who is completely kickass and introduces her to a secret police division (it's like Supernatural meets Sherlock, if that makes sense?) of ghost hunters known (though rarely referred to) as the Shades. This is the moment to say that besides Boo, there are only two others in the group: Callum, the stocky and obnoxious ex-footballer, and Stephen, the glasses-wearing and totally posh constable. They all can see ghosts and work in various capacities to get rid of dangerous ghosts, like poltergeists and such, that can cause a train wreck or disturb innocent people. I won't disclose all the plot details, but the book closes with Rory gaining a unique power--the as-of-yet unheard of ability to dispel ghosts permanently with a touch.

Cassandra Jean does incredible art for Shades of London--some fan art and some commissioned. This is Rory in front of Wexford.

When I went to the New York Comic Convention in October, I waited on line for about 30-45 minutes (talking to some very happy fellow nerds about general nerdyness to make the time go faster) to meet Maureen Johnson at the Penguin booth. I had brought my beautiful copy of The Name of the Star to be signed and I was eyeing those piles of Madness Underneath ARCs hungrily, hoping that they wouldn't run out. The line wrapped around the whole booth and moved like molasses, but the lovely people helping out made it go smoothly. After reading MJ's blog and tweets for years, I was a little disappointed--she was being polite to everyone and totally normal. To those who don't follow MJ, that might seem strange to say, but honestly, this lady is hilarious and has had contests where the prizes were actual random junk from her house as well as offered prizes for "crapfts"--crappy crafts. However, when I was one person away from her, she suddenly straightened in her seat and her eyes went even wider than they are here.

"It's HIM! I knew he'd come back!!" she squealed to the lady helping to hand out books.
I should've snapped a photo, but basically it was one of the bajillion Pyramid Heads who roam Comic Con lumbering by, insanely huge sword (?) in hand.

Minus the blood, gore, and dead child-thing (?), of course.

After he was gone, she turned back to the fans, still in awe of Pyramid Head. (Seriously, Maureen, come again to NYCC, I can promise you so many more Pyramid Heads. SO MANY.) I came up and said, "Hi. Um, I really love your dress" because I'm like a wordmaster, obviously. I explained that this was a UK version, which she was excited about, and we talked about London a bit. I got my book signed in silver Sharpie and the ARC of Madness Underneath and then I moved on. That night when I got home I was like "screw homework" and lay on the couch to read Madness Underneath. My copy contains errors, so for friends who want to borrow, I recommend waiting for the real thing unless you're patient and don't mind that kind of thing.

Madness Underneath picks up just weeks after Star leaves off. Rory is in therapy since what happened at Wexford but is having trouble keeping the truth from her therapist and parents--you can't just get over being hunted down by a ghost. What Rory wants more than anything is to be back in London, where she can hang out with Jazza and Jerome, visit Alistair the punk-rock ghost in the library, and help Boo, Callum, and Stephen hunt renegade ghosts. To her surprise she is sent back to school, but even Wexford isn't the same and Rory has a hard time keeping her secret from her Wexford friends. The Shades are reluctant to involve her in their activities, or rather Boo and Callum want her, but Stephen, the stern leader, won't hear of it and wants her to live her normal safe life. As luck (?) would have it,  the Shades need Rory because all Bedlam breaks loose. I mean, that quite literally, of course (curse you, MJ, for forcing me into puns!!). Because of a fissure made in the ground after Star, crazy ghosts from some old infirmaries of Bedlam Royal Hospital (the insane asylum from whence the origins of the word "bedlam" to mean chaos and general lunacy came from) start bursting forth and terrorizing the neighborhood. Rory being a human ghost-detonator puts her at the front of the conflict, but as much as Rory wants to be part of this, she's dealing with her own problems. 

Not only is she still traumatized from being nearly killed a dozen times, but her new relationship with Jerome isn't the easiest.

Making out in front of ghosts is 75% of their problem....
(More Cassandra Jean art just because.)
But with a new therapist, Rory starts to realize that she can't wait for everyone else and fuss about how they're going to feel...she's got to start figuring things out and standing up for herself. 

Okay, so it may be true that in my rambles here, I haven't said much about the plot and all that beyond describing what it is. The biggest reason for that is that I don't want to spoil anything. But also, to be honest, as much as I love this series, the actual premise doesn't blow me away--it's basically standard ghost-hunting supernatural business. 

The main draw of this series, besides the setting, is Rory herself. 100% Louisianian, Rory's narrative is just a pleasure to read and reminds me of my friends from around there (hey there, Callie!) who have this extraordinary ability to go on with a long detailed story about some people they know or something that happened to them a while ago. Rory's long hilarious deviations from the point are what make her my favorite character and such a thoroughly enjoyable protagonist. (Can Rory and Katniss get together for lunch sometime while I just cry and adore them please?) The other characters hold their own--Boo is Cockney and badass and an altogether strikingly original character with some amazing lines; Callum manages to whine a lot while still being the kind of honest and caring person you just want to hang out with in real life; Stephen is just asdfghjkl a really awesome guy who is a strong leader and ridiculously sexy and underneath all the serious exterior is one fine-looking mofo  really cares about his team and doing the right thing. Even more minor characters like Jazza, Rory's sweet best friend who will do anything for her, Alistair, the 80s ghost who haunts the library and helps Rory with her homework, and Jerome, Rory's patient and totally bizarre boyfriend, can make you laugh and definitely keep you turning pages.

MJ is also a brilliant writer--not in the show-off-my-skillz way of Michael Herbert or Orson Scott Card,  but in a wonderfully subtle way that can make you laugh out loud as you curl up on your bed and read her books in one sitting. But her gift of making you feel everything is a double-edged sword--she can also make you CRY. I have a love/hate relationship with books that make me cry--it's the sign of a quality book, but agghhhhh. Even with a premise that is basically familiar, MJ brings in plot twists you don't see coming. This is true of Star but even more so in Madness, which had me literally shouting WHAT and then screaming in terror. When I finished this book, I did actually throw it on the floor and cry. Then I jumped up, picked it up and re-read the last few chapters again because it's just that good.

I think this review is just about as long as the book itself, so I'll shut up now. But hopefully that kind of got across how much I love and enjoy this book and how serious I am about YOU doing the same.

This is the UK version--which I'm going to try to buy next year. SO MUCH PRETTIER.

Will try to blog more year I'm doing MoCCA with Melissa and selling Three of Swords merchandise and actual copies of our books, so much more of my prattle to come this year about that.


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