Tuesday, March 02, 2010

With MALICE Aforethought

MALICE by Chris Wooding
4Q, 3P; J/S

Kids are going missing. Sometimes they show up again weeks or months later, but they can't remember where they were or what they did. The police and their parents are baffled. If they knew about the existence of Malice, their questions might be answered. What is Malice? It's a really creepy comic book set in a place called Malice. In its pages, kids fight for survival against strange, terrible creatures. But it's not just a story. Malice is a real place, and everything in Malice is real. You won't find Malice in most comic book shops, and most shopkeepers will claim they have no idea it even exists. But if you're really determined, you can get your hands on a copy. You might even be tempted to go to Malice, to have a few adventures yourself. You might be tempted to gather the materials and perform the ritual that will get you there: "Tall Jake, take me away! Tall Jake, take me away!".... But you'd almost certainly regret it.

Luke is one of the kids who disappeared. Only three people know that Luke had a copy of Malice. Only they know that he did the ritual. Only they know that Tall Jake did take Luke away to Malice. Only they know that Luke isn't coming back. How do they know? Because they saw him die in the pages of the comic book.

But is it really true? Is Luke really dead? Seth is determined to find out. He knows it's dangerous, but he's always hated the dull, predictable life his parents lead, and he's always been afraid he'll wind up just like them. He's always liked to push the edge and get the thrill that comes when you're really up against it. What better place to do that than a place like Malice, where there's no room for error and your life is always on the line? Seth too does the ritual ("Tall Jake, take me away...") and becomes one of the missing kids. Within minutes of his arrival, he has narrowly escaped his own death and witnessed another's at the hands of one of the vicious mechanical inhabitants of Malice. It only gets worse from there.

Left behind by Seth, Kady sets off on her own quest to get to the truth. Her search leads her into just as much danger as anything she'd find in Malice. Because what Kady finds are the people deeply, evilly connected to Malice. And they know who she is and where she lives.

Their search for answers leave Seth and Kady staring death in the face and the readers of Malice on the edge of their seats.


The decision to tell this story partly in prose format and partly in graphic novel format was brilliant. Each time the story moves to events in Malice, the book shifts into graphic novel mode. In effect, the reader takes on the role of one of the readers of Malice (the comic book) who is watching the events unfold before his eyes. It takes the reading experience to a different level.

In the past, I've had a hard time getting into Chris Wooding's books. I don't think that had a thing to do with the author. The books just weren't right for me. I found this story to be a more comfortable fit, though a book this dark is certainly far from a comfortable read. I was intrigued by the premise.
I thought Wooding did a particularly good job creating the aura of Malice. Its bleakness and hopelessness is emphatically punctuated by bursts of terror and rushes of adrenaline. I'd never want to go there, but I can understand its appeal to someone like Seth or Justin.

I am not skilled at reading graphic novels, which meant that I occasionally had some trouble interpreting what was happening in the illustrated portions. That was somewhat frustrating for me, but I think the majority of the target audience is more familiar with the format and will have less trouble.

As well-developed as parts of the novel are, I do have some quibbles with it. The role of the various villains and how they are connected to each other is very murky. There doesn't appear to be any particular reason for their actions, and even a bad guy ought to be given some motivation for doing the things he does.
As Tall Jake makes clear on the last page of the book, he will be back in a sequel soon, so I expect the holes will be filled in a bit then. But while it's true that when a book is intended to be a part of a series there have to be things you still want to know at the end of the first book, it 's also true that the book should still be complete unto itself. I think Malice falls a bit short in that department.

I will recommend this book to readers who like dark, atmospheric books, graphic novels, and suspense, and readers who don't mind unanswered questions.

1 comment:

  1. We just got this one in recently and it's on my list to be read. I love the format...and now that I know the storyline, I'm even more intrigued. Great review!


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