Malice (Scholastic)

malice-header.jpgBritish YA writer Chris Wooding uses a blend of prose and comics to bring the creepy world-within-a-comic of Malice to life.

 

 

380 pgs., B&W; $16.99

(W: Chris Wooding; A: Dan Chernett)

 

The Bible informs us that "Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant" and basic human psychology tell us that often the best way to get someone interested in something is to tell them they can’t have it. Add in the cachet of being cooler than the next guy and you have the basic premise of Malice in a nutshell. It’s like the mystery location of Fluffy Bunny’s performance in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist: the indie kids wouldn’t be half as interested if anyone could just phone up Ticketmaster and buy a ticket.

What the characters in Malice are after is entrée to the world of a legendary comic book called Malice. Let’s not trip up on the meta-nature of that premise (a book called Malice about a comic called Malice about a place called Malice…) and just say that the world of Malice is a pretty creepy place. Most of the characters in the comic are children who bear a remarkable resemblance to those featured in the Missing Persons section of the newspaper and they always seem to be caught up in desperate situations. Kids have come back from Malice but they can’t remember anything about what happened there. And Malice the comic comes sealed in wax paper, which we later discover is necessary because the print dissolves upon exposure to air thus destroying all traces of the events portrayed on its pages.  

So Malice doesn’t sound like a very nice place to visit, but if you’re a teenager bored with your suburban life and your parent’s rules and such you might well be tempted. Especially if, like Seth and Kady, you saw your friend Luke in the pages of the comic, fleeing from a giant dragonfly into a ramshackle old house where he seems about to fall prey to shadowy creatures with lots of shiny sharp teeth. And if that’s not enough, the chapter ends with Tall Jake himself, a menacing dandy in gothic garb, delivering a carnival barker’s come-on which no red-blooded kid could refuse: "Not everyone makes it out of Malice alive. And yet you keep coming, don’t you? Keen to try your luck against Tall Jake. Who will be next, dear reader? You?"

So just like Luke before him, Seth assembles the necessary ritual items (a black feather, a twig, a knot of cat fur, a tear, a lock of his own hair) and burns them while saying the magic words ("Tall Jake, take me away!") six times. Before you know it, there he is in Malice, which turns out to be just as unpleasant as advertised. Kady later enters Malice to rescue him and they have lots of adventures which end with a cliffhanger, so don’t buy this book unless you’re willing to wait for the planned sequel, Havoc, to complete the story.

Malice is a YA novel (ages 12 and up) told in a combination of prose and graphics: without counting pages I’d say the graphic sections constitute 10% of the total. The story is good page-turning writing by the British author Chris Wooding (The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, Poison, The Storm Thief), although he doesn’t create much sense that the story is set in England other than the fact that the characters have access to a functioning railway system. That quibble aside, Wooding effectively combines an adventure/horror story (most of what the characters do is surmount one obstacle after another like heroes on a journey passing their trials, or collecting their plot coupons if you’re feeling cynical) with insights into teenage psychology to create a compelling read which, as they say, you won’t want to put down once you start reading it. Girls (and parents of girls) will be pleased by the fact that Kady is an active participant in the adventures whose contributions are at least as important as Seth’s.

The imagined world of Malice—basically steampunk with assorted magical elements mixed in—is not all that original but serves the story well enough. Art by Dan Chernett sets the mood effectively, favoring line drawings with grey washes and lots of black. It works: the graphic sections are set in the world of Malice which seems to be dark and gloomy even when the characters are outdoors in the daytime. The shifts between prose and graphics are also effective, forcing you to jump from reading about the story in the prose section to almost experiencing it along with the characters in the graphic sections.

The only extra in Malice is a 3D molded plastic cover, which is truth in advertising at its finest: if you think the cover is cool you’ll probably like the writing and art inside as well. You can check out an image of the cover on the author’s web site http://www.chriswooding.com/the-books/malice/. If you’re worried about storage issues, internet research informs me that: 1) the cover was designed to balance at three points so if you like to store books in stacks that should be no problem, and 2) the 3D cover is held on with something like rubber cement so if you want to remove it you can, and the same image is printed directly on the boards underneath. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

 

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