My dad once said to me, "You give a lot of books three stars." I do.
*This review contains no spoilers for The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson, but don’t read it if you don’t want The Name of the Star (Shades of London, #1) spoiled.
I love Maureen Johnson. She is my favorite YA author. I have been waiting to read The Madness Underneath for over a year, and it didn’t disappoint.
When I first read The Name of the Star, I thought it was a strong start to the series (I stand by that assessment). The Madness Underneath is a great continuation. So often the second story of a trilogy falls flat. The introduction is usually pretty easy to get through. The conclusion equally so. But the middle often becomes filler between the beginning and the end.
I have started measuring all trilogies against Star Wars. The first part needs to destroy the Death Star. It needs to have one self-contained plot line and set up the rest of the story. If the first part is just a really long introduction to the next two parts it fails this test. The second part needs to up the stakes and leave the characters poised for the conclusion (and hopefully worse off than they were at the start of the story). The final part needs to conclude the story (and generally includes/should include some form of triumph/redemption). Clearly only the first two parts of the Shade of London trilogy have been published, but so far Maureen Johnson is doing a great job according to my Star Wars test.
The Madness Underneath picks up almost directly after The Name of the Star ends. Since The Name of the Star did it’s job as an introduction, The Madness Underneath is interesting right away. We’ve spent a whole adventure with Rory and the Shades. We’ve gotten to know the setting and learned some about ghosts and how they work. We were left with a teaser at the end of the last novel that starts us on the next adventure in this one. The stakes are raised in this book. The termini are gone unless you count Rory, so she must find a way to stay in the country (in between dealing with other problems that crop up throughout the story). The Madness Underneath is ridiculously readable, and the story never lags.
The Madness Underneath is much less predictable than The Name of the Star. When I was reading The Name of the Star, there were times when I was waiting for the characters to figure out what I had already guessed. In The Madness Underneath, I had my theories, but was much less sure that I knew where the story was going. I think because The Name of the Star was trying to be so many different stories (murder mystery/paranormal thriller/school story/general YA), parts suffered for it. The Madness Underneath is much more difficult to categorize (to me it read most like a fairy tale…) but the story is much more streamlined.
The one failing I would say is the character of Rory. I don’t really remember anything about her character from the first book, and in this book, Rory spends a lot of time telling the reader what she’s like (she likes spicy food, when she’s stressed out she talks a lot, etc., etc.). I couldn’t remember if any of these details were included in the first book, but there was a lot more telling than showing Rory’s character. However, I would argue that the Shades of London story is more plot-driven than character-driven, so it’s not terribly distracting that Rory is a rather flat character.
All in all, The Madness Underneath is a great second story, and I can’t wait until the final installment is published.