Book Review by Bibliomantic: “The Madness Underneath”


The Madness Underneath! A highly anticipated sequel which was not quite as highly anticipated by us since we managed to snag some ARC’s at New York Comic Con. Not only did Maureen sign our books, she always know how to cite a book review and also gave us the famous STARE as we accidentally knocked over a sign on her table about five times. It was pretty much the most terrifying and also best thing that ever happened to me.

This book keeps up with Maureen’s signature quirkiness that shown through so wonderfully in The Name of the Star. Rory remains fantastically realistic while managing to be both socially awkward and totally cool at the same time. However, this sequel is definitely much heavier than the first – Rory has been through a lot and it’s not the sort of stuff you can just get over. Unlike in some stories where serious consequences might be glossed over – all is definitely not well for Rory. Having to adjust back to life after the events of the first book are difficult both emotionally and physically as she has to heal from the damage done to her mind and her body. She is unsure where she fits in now – she is hovering somewhere between normalcy at school and the supernatural world that she has been thrust in to. She has to choose – but how when neither world seems to offer her a perfect match and there is definitely no choice that can guarantee happiness.

I do love Rory, but I did end up doing that thing where you yell at the characters in the book because they are SO OBVIOUSLY doing something SO STUPID and they seem to have no idea! Sigh. Our favorite ghost police have definitely gotten themselves caught up in something even bigger and crazier than just dealing with ghosts. As zombie stories have taught us – people are always the bad guys. Okay, well maybe not as much in the first book, but I think we’re definitely heading in that direction now which is really cool, but I am looking forward to more ghost action in the next book that we are definitely set up for.

Lastly, Maureen has, of course, tweeted about THE THING that happens at the end of the book. THE THING is just as traumatizing as I hoped it would be and I definitely did not see it coming. However, while THE THING remains the same, the circumstances are different in the ARC than in the final book. I personally enjoyed the ARC’s version way better – the suddenness of the events, how there was no time to think or really decide anything, just one desperate act that hadn’t really even become a plan… The actual version sets us up for more guilt and heartache, I suppose, but honestly I don’t think Rory needs anymore of that.

This series is a really excellent read and I cannot wait for the conclusion!

This book is really about being between two worlds (which is appropriate as it’s the middle book in the trilogy). Rory is trying to resume her life as it was before the attack, but finds this task to be very difficult. School is overwhelming, she doesn’t know if she can dissipate ghosts in good conscience, and she can’t even tell her friends what happened. Even when Rory is regaling us with stories about her crazy Louisiana neighbors, it feels like she is trying to distract us with a shiny object. “Don’t look at my pain! Look over here!” Maureen Johnson creates believable and necessary change in an already well-developed character.

Then there is the element of the paranormal which makes everything more complicated. Rory has to figure out what to do with her life – stay in school? Go back to America? Join the British Ghost Buster Squad forevs?  It’s like  a completely normal teenage existential crisis, except for Rory’s new abilities to kill ghosts with her bare hands. I do wish there was more focus on the ghosty aspect, as I really missed the mystery element to this novel. It was spread a little too thin, focusing more on Rory’s growing questions about the afterlife.

SPEAKING OF AFTERLIFE – I am not happy with the ending of this book. Not happy at all! It was shocking, and made me a sad panda. If I wasn’t so afraid of The Stare, I would march right up to MJ and demand answers. Instead, I suppose I will just have to wait until the final book is released. It seems like MJ is building up all this new and cool information that will be more fully fleshed out in the end, and I can’t wait to see what happens. However – there better not be any *pottery* scenes. S’all I’m saying.

Wow, wow, wow. The Madness Underneath was a completely different beast than The Name of the Star. While the first book dealt entirely with solving the mystery of the Jack the Ripper copycat and dealing with Rory’s involvement in a new school across the pond, this one covers barely any time in school and instead follows Rory as she heals (physically and emotionally) and 15 month sleep regression to reconnect with her old life. Much thanks to Maureen Johnson for successfully dealing with this and not just throwing her heroine back into the action as most authors are wont to do.

The best thing about Rory is that despite being a victim, having had this horrible act befall her, literally leaving her scarred, she also becomes literally empowered. Yes, she’s damaged, but she’s also more powerful and stronger because of it. Again, not just figuratively.

Also, thanks to MJ for not making her cry all the time, because we all know that’s what Harry Dresden would have done in half the situations Rory finds herself in. Fucking Harry Dresden.

Anyway, regardless of being different and heart-wrenching, the dialogue and the details still have that fun, spunky touch of Maureen. Instead of talking in sonnets or being melodramatic, Rory and her new boyfriend Jerome have a habit of investing in crypto and insulting each other to reveal how much they really care. She writes, “Jerome and I had developed a code for expressing whatever it was we felt for each other… We had started to say mildly insulting things. Our entire correspondence was a string of heartfelt insults.”

Other Maureen-isms include Rory petting her unshaven leg hair and calling it “my very own fuzzy pet” or the hypothetical question, “Rory, do you want to go live in the sky? On a Pegasus?” or how about Rory telling inappropriate stories when she’s embarrassed like, “We had this neighbor once… Who nicknamed his dog Dicknickel.” And let’s not forgot Rory being woken up to be told the climax of the story and immediately mumbling, “I don’t want ham.” Are we sure this isn’t just a true story about Maureen Johnson’s life?

If you can get your hands on an ARC with the original ending, I highly recommend it. The immediacy and the suddenness of the THING at the end (the same one in the published version) is so much more shocking and realistic because of how immediate it is. Just like if it were real life. The published version just didn’t have that same sock in the gut feeling. Damn you publisher’s why would you do that?

-Rory is even more fully fleshed out and developed in this book
-MJ doesn’t gloss over Rory’s pain and trauma but takes us through it
-Yay for more ghost hunters, not so much yay for not enough Alistair

-Much preferred the sudden nature and immediacy in the ARC (THAT THING!)
-Would have liked some more ghostly goings-on