Maureen Johnson’s “The Shadow Cabinet” is a return to form for her Shades of London series

I’ve been a fan of Maureen Johnson since 2007, when I was absorbed by the world of vlogbrothers and devouring any Young Adult fiction that was connected to John Green. I spent a whole weekend in 2008 reading her blog instead of studying. The blog has now moved to tumblr, and her twitter account is pretty much one of my favourite things ever. I also just read on Maureen’s blog that she’s been sick, which sucks. I know what it’s like to live with someone who is sick, and I know it isn’t fun for the sick person, so if you end up reading this Maureen, I hope you’re feeling better each day. Onto the review,which will probably contain spoilers for Shades of London so far!

I was incredibly excited when Maureen announced that she was writing a paranormal genre novel that wasn’t about vampires OR zombies. I was getting really sick of that trend. Once I read it, The Name of the Star was my favourite of Johnson’s novels. I liked the idea of people who were able to see ghosts having been through near-death experiences, and the copycat Jack the Ripper. I never really read much about the Jack the Ripper case, but I did know it was unsolved, so someone recreating his crimes was right up my alley. I find it difficult to handle gore on my screen, but mysteries fascinate me. I’m way more into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie than more modern crime novels which involve forensics, but that’s another post for another day. The point is, The Name of the Star was great, I had a bit of a crush on Jerome, who is now sadly too young for me, and I couldn’t wait for the next instalment.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed with The Madness Underneath. It was a victim of my expectations, and also just the issue of second books in series generally. By the time Johnson is finished writing, I might have a new appreciation for the book, as I now do for Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsA Clash of Kings was also not the best book in A Song of Ice and Fire, but it was also markedly better than the fourth and fifth instalments in the series. The problem with serialised fiction is that setting the board is often inelegant. I was also on team Jerome so when Rory kissed Stephen, I was a bit annoyed – as much as I’m a shipper, I wasn’t particularly invested in this romance, so it was fine (I was nowhere near as upset as I was in The Last Little Blue Envelope). The most interesting part was Rory as a living terminus, and whether or not she was able to bring Stephen back.

So I hadn’t reread The Madness Underneath since that first time, and it was good that the first chapter of The Shadow Cabinet recapped the events for me. Stephen was possibly dead, Charlotte was missing, and some weird death cultists tried to kidnap Rory, and Stephen died by deliberately crashing into their car to rescue Rory. The Shadow Cabinet picks up immediately where The Madness Underneath left off, and it’s great. Much of this novel is table setting, but it also solves the mystery of just who Jane Quaint is, and how she became involved with this death cult. The group of problem solvers gains a member, and the lore of the novels is becoming increasingly tied to Ancient Greek (and probably Egyptian and even more) and I love it. I don’t know why, but I assumed that this was going to be a trilogy, and after I read The Madness Underneath, I’m glad there’s going to be more, because the best thing a series can do is wrap up plotlines at the same time new mysteries are being revealed, and Johnson does that masterfully.

Other thoughts:

  • I read all of The Shadow Cabinet this afternoon, so my thoughts aren’t particularly coherent at this stage. It didn’t help that I was trying to write this review at the same time as watching Grantchester, and drinking a can of cider.
  • I pre-ordered a signed copy of the book from RJ Julia, which is one of the independent booksellers that had the special pre-order package, and the only one on Maureen’s list that shipped to Australia, so I’m definitely going to buy from them again. I don’t care that the shipping was more expensive than the book, it’s that kind of service that attracts customers, and I’d much rather support an independent bookseller than Amazon (I also love Amazon, but I only buy ebooks from there now. I like ebooks AND physical books! You can’t get signed copies of ebooks though).

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