Hello! I’ve been reading Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series since book one, The Name of the Star hit UK shelves back in 2011. I was emotionally devastated by how she chose to end The Madness Underneath – book two in the series, and so I awaited the arrival of book 3 with bated breath. The story of American exchange student Rory and her ability to see the dead has been one of my favourite YA series for ages, and it’s one of the rare supernatural series in the Teen market to not include generic forbidden romance and other clichés. When The Shadow Cabinet finally arrived in my shop, it didn’t even hit the shelves, I bought it right away… Perks of the job, after all.
WARNING. This is the THIRD BOOK in the Shades of London series, and so my review will contain some spoilers for the first two books. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
The Shadow Cabinet picks up exactly where The Madness Underneath left off, with the supernatural police squad of Stephen, Callum and Boo shattered and lost. They may have rescued Rory from the clutches of the nefarious therapist turned occultist Jane, but at what cost? And they still have no idea what Jane’s end game is, or where Rory’s missing schoolmate Charlotte is. With their leader Stephen trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead, the squad have no direction and no leads. Under the instruction of their direct superior, the elusive and ever professional Thorpe, Rory and the squad decide the best course of action is the most immediate one – track down Charlotte and find out what Jane has in mind that she’s willing to drug and kidnap school students to achieve. As the team begin to unravel the trail left behind, they stumble upon a thirst for power and knowledge older than them, older than civilization itself, stretching back to the very beginning of humanity when the worlds of the living and the dead and the magic that weaves between them were better understood. They stumble upon the legend of Sid and Sadie and the murders they committed to try and live forever, only to be trapped in the in between of the worlds, and eventually they realise what Jane plans to do… And the dire consequences that it will have not just on London, but on the world. But it might also offer the only chance to save Stephen from his fate too. Sometimes the biggest victories require equally big losses.
Once again, Maureen has managed to perfectly blend a feeling of sticky, oppressive southern American gothic atmosphere with a chilling, ancient and dour English one, creating a unique feeling in the Shades of London universe that oozes with melancholy. At the centre of all this is the series main protagonist, Rory, who is back on perfect form with her mix of sarcastic humour and passionately emotionally driven behaviour. She’s a girl who thinks and acts with her heart, and it leads to some dark, but ultimately necessary places. One of the main things I love about these books is the way Rory relates to the strange, ghostly English world around her using anecdotes and flashbacks to her Louisiana childhood, which includes big, brash and eccentric family members that she recalls with a fondness that always makes me smile. All the old favourites from the first two books are back, much like the start of a new season of a TV show you look forward to so much. I think I’d have liked more from Callum and Boo, but I think their absence lends The Shadow Cabinet it’s broken and desperately lost feeling. The new editions to the cast are fantastic though, with the enthusiastic and staggeringly knowledgeable Freddie being a great breath of fresh air into the downbeat and dejected characters. Sid and Sadie shine through though, for me – they’re the epitome of Crowley inspired occultism, all dreamlike spirituality with an unspoken undercurrent of menace and a lethal streak that comes out with sudden unexpected bursts of violence.
I loved the way the plot opened straight up into the driven climactic chaos of book 2’s ending, before losing momentum and choosing to give way to an almost dreamlike shift in tone, completely derailing the reader and creating a great sense of unease despite with the unexpected path change towards the unknown. It allows the book to study the main characters of Rory and Stephen in a separate environment, where the focus is very much on them, before ripping them back into the urgency and harsh nature of reality, building up the tension and action once more for a brief climax – perhaps too brief? I wanted more, but then I always do. Maureen also begins to touch upon the more ancient mythology of the Shades series, moving towards Greek mythology and some esoteric, unknowable ancient evil that I always love, and I look forward to it being a bigger focus of the next book.
Speaking of the next book… When, erm… When could we expect it? I need it because reasons.
Thanks for Reading!
You can buy The Shadow Cabinet here.
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