Sunday, July 12, 2015

Book Review: The Shadow Cabinet

There was actually a novella that came out in-between this and The Madness Underneath called The Boy in the Smoke and looking at this post I think I did actually read three of the four stories but I have no idea where. If you can also find those stories I do recommend reading them at some point since Stephen remains an important character in the series but I don't think it's vital that you have to read them before you track down The Shadow Cabinet.

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson

London lost one of it's best when Stephen died but Rory and the rest of the group still have hope that he might have returned as a ghost. No one can quite tell who will return so they split up to find him, Rory's still-missing classmate and vanished therapist, and realize that there are even stranger things right below them. 

So I say that Stephen remains an important character in the series but as readers will remember, he died at the end of the last book! Which was shocking but I was okay with, in a series that deals with ghosts it didn't feel like it came out of nowhere simply to gut-punch the readers, but it is at the heart of all of my complaints about this book. Since we are now in the third of four books (hurray, two middle, weaker books instead of one!) it's becoming increasingly hard to talk about what I like and dislike without specific spoilers so this will be a spoiler-filled review, stop here if you don't want that.

Moving forward then, in the last book Stephen dies and in this book he comes back, not as a ghost but as a person. I often comment that it's hard to make a middle book feel important, like it's not just killing time for the plot to wrap in the third book (since with book series you're literally trying to pull off stories-within-stories) but with that twist it practically cancels out almost all of the important plot points in two books! Yes we meet some new characters, including what I suppose are our final villains*, but in the end I'm sure all of the important parts will go to Rory and Stephen, this is a series that has main characters and side characters, not an ensemble cast, so ultimately having new characters doesn't really change it at all (even if the new girl is likable the way a puppy is likable).

The way Stephen is revived is a bit of a strange thing, half on accident half on purpose it's something that does have precedent in the book but only occurs a hundred or so pages earlier, if that. At first I was willing to forgive the book, "there's no way they could've known that they were doing something very unusual" but then, the story decides to get a bit more complicated. Stephen reveals some things about the titular shadow cabinet to Rory and by that measure yes, information or at least a theory of what they did should have been out there and Stephen should have been passing that information around. This isn't a water-tight idea, everything happened so fast with his death after all, but I was only willing to let this huge, complicated coincidence slide as long as there was no way the characters could have known better and nope, there was a way. Add in the fact that Rory immediately forgets all of this important information (I hate it when a reader knows information that the characters don't in this manner, don't pit the reader against the characters like that!) and I was left feeling very disgruntled.  

I do feel like this was a stronger book than the second book, flowed a bit better, expanded the world and let the characters react to it more instead of trying to keep them more limited in the second book, but it did have a number of logical ("fridge logic" according to tvtropes) problems and it's really struggling now to balance aspects of the real-world (trying to keep up the charade that Rory is kidnapped) without restraining the plot. My hopes for the final book aren't really high at this point, I'll settle for a satisfactory ending instead of a spectacular one, but I do plan on reading it reasonably soon after the release just to see what craziness it includes.

*I'm not that fond of them since they appear to be just crazy for the sake of being crazy, if I was watching an anime that was clearly very beholden to it's production committee and having a hard time being "distinct" but "safe", that had moments of first rate animation and a third rate plot, these are the kind of villains I would expect to see.

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