This is a wonderful example of modernizing an old tale – in this case, inspired from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland series. All the social commentary is there as well as wit and amusing scenes. The real world is very gritty and the fantasy world rich and rife with all kinds of darkly imaginative creatures. There’s no doubting that author Chris Wooding has truly created a unique world that draws in the characters from their mundane existences. But while Alice faced whimsey and illogical characters for a 20th century England, the Malice kids face horror movie scenarios which better echo the life of the 21st century kid.
And that’s the pull of Malice – this is no light fable but a very dark and scary book in which kids die. It is a book about the visual medium (inspired more from the movies than graphic novels, to be honest) and appropriately is interspersed with sections of comics. The lure of being able to use pictures rather than words is understandable – it is tempting to use the pictures to tell an action tale rather than leg words bog it down. Wooding more or less accomplishes this with the comic inserts – though to be honest, their downside is that creatures that seemed genuinely scary when written can end up comical (or even silly) when actually drawn out.
The one aspect of Malice that keeps this from being a 5 star is that there are a lot of balances that aren’t quite managed – the book feels schizophrenic in several ways. The characters and their dialogues, for example, feel more like they came directly from a blockbuster movie than from a British young adult horror novel. There are a lot of snarky comments when kids are in danger – defeating the purpose of Wooding writing that they are terrified or very, very scared. Several kids sounded more like younger versions of movie characters who say some pun when they off their evil bad guys (think Arnold Schwartzenegger lines when he kills an evil henchmen and you’ll get the idea). This can take away the depth and draw of the book. Similarly, the cartoons were great for several aspects of presenting the story – but they are really small in a regular sized novel and often confusing and hard to understand. And then some creates just look plain silly/cartoony rather than truly terrifying. This may be a downside for adults more than teens, however, who are more used to the cartoony quips of the modern video game. In fact, it may make the novels that much more enjoyable for teens.
The one thing I really like about this book is the presentation – the embossed cover really gives a menacing 3D feel and really accurately reflects everything about the book that will be appealing to teens. I also like that the characters are both male and female and each play their own part (playing up to their interesting and unique backstories) in the plot. There are secrets and surprises aplenty and this book is far from predictable, pat, or mundane. But the characters are, honestly, a bit 2D and very hard to really like or root for – you don’t put your self in their shoes so much as watch them struggle from afar.
This is a set up book to the next novel in the series, Havoc, and does end on a cliff hanger. I will be buying the next novel to see if Wooding can keep up the fascinating Malice world.
Reviewed from an ARC.