On “The Madness Underneath” by Maureen Johnson

51lZGWjeA6LAfter my Maureen Johnson craze faded a few months ago, I thought it might be a while before I got around to reading the next book in her Shades of London series. I’ve read a number of YA books since I burned through Johnson’s canon, but something about The Name of the Star really piqued my interest; I was eager to get back to the series sooner rather than later. From the beginning, Johnson hit all the right points–a boarding school in London, Jack the Ripper, ghost police–it’s all there. And I was so ready for my ship of Rory and Stephen’s romance to come to fruition.

The series’ second installment, The Madness Underneath, seamlessly continues the action of the first novel. It was not, however, as finely tuned as I thought it would be. Because Rory is in limbo in terms of whether she will be returning to Wexford, and then, whether or not she can actually pass school, or how she is going to contribute to the Shades now that she is a terminus, the narrative is noticeably harried. It’s difficult to keep up with Rory in The Madness Underneath. Johnson moves the plot along at a breakneck speed. And though her character development is as excellent as ever in this novel, there are some murky aspects of the text that crop up.

Johnson’s introduction of the story’s new nemesis is odd. Rory’s difficulty with school was an excellent way for Johnson to throw a monkey wrench into the plot. I assumed she would continue on at Wexford while working with the Shades on the aftermath of the Ripper case. But, no. That would be too easy. *Spoiler alert* Johnson takes us on a roller coaster ride that involves an ex-rock n’ roller turned therapist who convinces Rory to run away from school when she finds out how poorly she’s doing academically. I had a lot of difficulty accepting that what was happening was happening as it unfolded. Who is convinced that easily that she should run away? It’s so sudden and so complete that I was confused and skeptical all at once.

Johnson offsets this a bit when Rory realizes that Jane, the therapist, has been drugging her with hash via baked goods. How 70s. This is a meager, though generally acceptable, explanation of Rory’s suggestibility during the entire affair, but it still rubs the wrong way. It doesn’t help that there was so much information and action packed into the last few chapters that it was difficult to jump from Rory’s rambling limbo phase, with hints of lurking danger, to full on danger.

Those last few chapters are heavy hitters. Jane and her lackeys are members of a cult who is trying to “defeat death”–whatever that means–and attempting to use Rory as a tool because of her terminus abilities. When Stephen, Callum, and Boo save her, she and Stephen FINALLY hook up, which was a deeply satisfying moment for a repressed fangirl such as myself, but Johnson steps it up to a whole new level when she kills Stephen off.

He sustains a serious head injury that isn’t immediately obvious to the others, and once they get him to the hospital, it’s too late. Rory insists on keeping her hands on him during his death because she believes its a way to bring him back as a ghost. The novel ends with Rory and Boo searching for him, and Rory’s vow to get payback.

For the most part, The Madness Underneath was a great next step in the series. I seriously didn’t see any of the second half coming. The beginning gets off to a shaky start as Rory finds her footing, but the traipsing through London she does makes up for it. There’s nothing better than some good old-fashioned London history to keep me going, and Johnson threads it into the novel with ease.

I’ve already gotten my hands on the next two installments, and I cannot wait to see how the Shades of London pans out.

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