Hello all! I’m writing this review whilst sat on a balcony in my parent’s apartment in Dubai, so hopefully I won’t pass out from heat exhaustion.
So, The Madness Underneath is the second book in Maureen Johnson’s The Shades of London series, which kicked off with the World Book Day title The Name of the Star, & takes place some months afterwards. Spoilers for the first book will be beyond this point! You can read my review for it HERE.
We meet up with Rory, our American leading lady, after she has recovered from her brutal attack from the Ripper. However, she’s still undergoing therapy to cope with the events of the stabbing, her parents & psychologist overwhelming her with worry. She’s also struggling without being able to tell anyone the truth: After a near death experience (WELL, choking in the school canteen), Rory can see ghosts. She discovers the world of the Shades, a small, mysterious arm of the British Police Force who deal with Ghostly Phenomenon, include the Ripper, a homicidal ghost with a taste for those with the second sight. But she can’t tell her parents, can’t tell her school friends, can’t tell ANYONE, & it’s driving her mad. When suddenly, her therapist suggests perhaps the best medicine would be for Aurora to return to the school where the attack occurred, & finish out her school term there, she jumps at the chance. She’s soon whisked back to London, to Wexford School, & her friends. More importantly, she’ll have a chance to talk to the only other 3 people who know what really happened to her; The Shades – Stephen, Callum & Boo. Rory soon finds that she’s behind on schoolwork, she’s behind on social life, & she’s not quite as over the Ripper attack as she thought, so she turns to a new Therapist, the much more down to Earth, relatable Jane, who she can be much more open with. She also begins to come to grips, with the Shades’ help, with her new ability, seemingly a result of the attack, to destroy ghosts on contact, making her a very valuable resource to the division, & explaining why they orchestrated her return to Wexford. Amidst Aurora’s academic life collapsing, her increasingly unusual therapy sessions, & her failed romantic attempts, something is brewing under London, & Bedlam has broken free…
The Madness Underneath is clearly intended as a bridging novel between The Name of the Star & whatever Maureen’s devious brain is cooking up next, & that means one thing is paramount: Character Development. On this, she does not skimp. Aurora starts to really mature as a character, becoming much more decisive, as well as much more aware of her surroundings. Sat at an awkward age, when she no longer knows where her future will take her, she’s reckless, but as funny as ever, learning from her mistakes, & refreshingly far from perfect & glamorous. Her therapy sessions & periods of defeatist depression are heartbreaking & well written, managing to put across her chatty, funny nature despite the context. Great background characters have less development, but are still classic staples. I’d love to have seen more of Alistair, the library ghost, & of Boo too, but I can understand that this novel is all about driving Rory into a mature, passionate individual, giving her much more to strive for emotionally in the next story. Stephen, head of the Shades division does garner some development as well, with small chunks of his background & nature teased out throughout.
The thing I’m most looking forward to in the next novel in more detail is the idea of Bedlam, an old psychiatric hospital with some horrific patient treatment, with criminally insane ghosts pouring out of it. A brilliant horror setting, & the first ghost encountered by Rory & Stephen in the pub basement is genuinely pretty unsettling, great use of descriptive text & haunting visuals/sounds. And, as this is a bridging novel, the ending really ramps up the tension, the tragedy & leaves off on a heart wrenching cliffhanger… You have been warned! It’s like The Empire Strikes Back all over again…
Maureen’s writing manages to be engaging, funny & relatable yet again, with enough twists, turns & shocks to keep readers hooked & eager for part 3 in the series. A great blending of horror, drama, comedy & romance.
Right, I’m off to get on with my holiday!
‘Till Next Time Pilgrims.
P.S. I advise following the author on Twitter, she’s a hoot! @MaureenJohnson