Title: Shades of London #02: The Madness Underneath
Author: Maureen Johnson
No. of Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Thriller
Bottom Line: Fantastic sequel to an outstanding series that breaks your heart and leaves you breathless with anticipation.
“After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Devereaux has been living in Bristol under the close watch of her parents. So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory jumps at the chance to get back to her friends. But Rory’s brush with the Ripper touched her more than she thought possible: she’s become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades—the city’s secret ghost-fighting police—are responsible for her return. The Ripper may be gone, but now there is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory has evidence that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it’s too late.”
Thoughts: The Madness Underneath, the second novel in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, focuses on Rory’s recovery – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and every other “-al” possible. Her near-death experience at the hands of the Ripper, in addition to the shock of learning about the Shades, their work, and her possible role in that organization, have left her reeling. Thinking that a return to normalcy is what she needs to finish her recovery, she jumps at the chance to return to Wexford and her friends. Once back in London, Rory quickly immerses herself into the mysterious new deaths plaguing the Wexford area, uncovering a potentially new catastrophe that will require all of the Shades’ expertise to resolve. Before that can happen however, the situation at Wexford deteriorates, prompting Rory to seek solace elsewhere, setting the stage for an exciting showdown and jaw-dropping conclusion.
Ms. Johnson is known for her wit, and one would expect her characters to have the same quirky, wry humor that she showcases to perfection on Twitter, which Rory does. What is surprising in The Madness Underneath is the profound depths of emotion Rory – and the reader through Rory – experiences. Rory is still a smartass, but there is now a frailty to her that was not there prior to the Ripper attack. This fragility creates poignancy throughout the story as she struggles to work through her total recovery. It also impacts her relationships with her friends, and the vulnerability that results from these fractured friendships sets the stage for what follows. It is a surprising emotional roller coaster of a novel that also intensifies the tension, as a reader is even more emotionally connected to Rory’s fate than in the first novel.
Unlike the first novel in the series, which had a self-contained major storyline and only a minor cliffhanger, The Madness Underneath ends with very little resolution and a cliffhanger of epic proportions. Yet it is a testament to Ms. Johnson’s engaging writing style that a reader is not angry about the lack of answers. Instead, a reader appreciates the skillful way she builds the story, creating a multi-layered plot that is surprisingly realistic in spite of its decidedly supernatural elements. While it is a filler novel, setting the stage for an exciting finale, the story itself is entertaining and lacks the slow exposition that typically signifies a sequel. That being said, Ms. Johnson better finish the third novel quickly because the desire to find out what happens is intense!
The Madness Underneath in many ways is a much stronger story than the first novel in The Shades of London series. Impetuous and snarky Rory has a delicacy about her due to her continuing recovery that caters to a reader’s emotional side. The story’s plot twists are also darker than the Ripper storyline, made more insidious by the lack of answers. The cliffhanger ending, while shocking, makes sense, and it will be with bated breath that readers eagerly wait for the next novel in the series. Please hurry, Ms. Johnson!