The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

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.

The Madness Underneath, UK Jacket.

The Madness Underneath, UK Jacket.

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…

US Jacket! Shiny...

US Jacket! Shiny…

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…

The Previous book, The Name of the Star, was just £1 for WBD!

The Previous book, The Name of the Star, was just £1 for WBD!

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


The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

So, despite being interrupted by Michael Grant last week, I’ve finally finished one of our £1 World Book Day titles for teens, the rippertastic Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. Of course, it says that in the title, so I suppose I’m just repeating myself… But I’m setting up the review, ok?! Don’t judge me!

The Name of the Star's UK Jacket

So, the Name of the Star is a paranormal thriller following a young American girl who is attending the prestigious boarding school Wexford, all the way across the pond in London, England. Aurora (Rory to her friends), is her name, and she arrives in London at around the same time murders have started to take the city by the throat. Why? Because these murders appear to follow the traits, dates and even locations of the infamous works of Jack the Ripper back in 1888. A killer so brutal and mysterious, that his legacy lives to this day, and his identity is still shrouded in mystery. This of course, is a minor side note to Rory, who is busy settling in to her new life, the classes, her roomate Jazza, and all the usual suspects that come with living in a private boarding school. During one particularly animated conversation during mealtime though, Rory chokes, and despite narrowly avoiding death, this little accident will change Rory’s life forever. Suddenly, she’s the first person to see someone on the night of a Ripper murder. Someone no-one else can see. She’s the first witness since the murders began, and that makes her a likely target. Soon, she’s brought up to speed by the Shades, a shadowy trio of special police officers, all of whom have the sight. They, like Rory, have had near death experiences, and ever since then, they have been able to see and communicate with ghosts. Some ghosts are simply harmless shades, confused and in need to help to reach peace. Others however, like the Ripper, are far more malevolent all together, and it’s down to the Shades to stop them. Rory can’t tell anyone, but she has to help the Shades in their search, and they have to protect her, as the Ripper makes in perfectly clear that he only wants Aurora as his final victim…

The US Jacket

One part murder-mystery, one part supernatural thriller, with dashes of humour and romance thrown into the mix to bring a fast, funny, scary and touching book. Rory is an instantly familiar character, using humour and an animated sense of interaction that make her both instantly endearing and also help give her the attitude that too many female characters fall short of in teen literature. Her supporting cast are also superb, with the particular gems in my mind, being the members of the shades: Stephen, Callum and Boo. Each one has had some kind of near-death experience, leading to their gift, and each one is a twisted psychological back story waiting to be spilled. The promise of later books to develop the characters is tantalising, knowing that these great caricatures with their shadowy history will be further teasingly revealed is a great incentive to keep reading these books. The romance is kept short, and doesn’t dominate the plot, which is a nice break from the normal way it’s handled. Rory is no sap, that’s for sure.

The story telling is first rate, pacing itself brilliantly, using each of the dates of the original Ripper murders as a keystone to major events driving the story forward. The sense of bleak isolation, even in such a bustling city as London is well explored through characters both alive and dead, and Maureen Johnson is fantastic at using the idea of mass hysteria to create a sense of epic proportions and panic towards the later stages of the novel.  The plots drops and twists help keep the reader guessing until right near the very end, and there are more than one tense stand off moments that make putting the book down literally impossible.

So, in short, The Name of the Star is a thriller and a chiller, with strong characters and a wry sense of humour. It promises to kick start an interesting paranormal mystery series!