Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wooding, Chris. Malice. Scholastic, 2009 (3 stars out of 4)

Horror has a safe haven in the imaginations of many of our middle-level students, and growing up on Fear Street and Cirque du Freak has poured the tinny but delicious taste of blood into many a young person’s mouth. Chris Wooding (Storm Thief, Poison) has earned a place as one of the new standard-bearers of horror/fantasy/sci-fi, and Malice is his latest effort to craft a dark, perilous, and exciting fantasy world. Using a hybrid novel/graphic novel format, Mr. Wooding creates an underworld complete with scary characters, life-threatening danger, larger-than-life enemies, and many mysteries to solve.

Malice is no ordinary comic book. The characters in the comic are disturbingly similar to real people who have disappeared, and English middlers Luke, Heather, Seth, and Kady get involved over their heads. There is a rumor that if a certain ritual is performed, the villain Tall Jake will appear and take the subject to Malice, a dreadful alternate world filled with killer machines and topsy-turvy reality. When Luke disappears after performing the ritual, leaving his cell phone in his room, Seth has trouble believing that the stories are actually true, but he knows something is amiss: “He snorted to himself in disgust. He was letting himself get spooked by the stories. He wouldn’t be surprised if Luke was winding him up on purpose, just for a laugh . . . But he would never have left his phone behind” (27). Something is indeed very wrong about Malice, Black Dice Comics where it is secretly sold, and the shady characters involved with the store. Answers must be provided to save lives, and there is only one way to find them: in Malice itself.

Mr. Wooding succeeds on many levels, but not all of them. Malice is a well-developed plot idea that is sometimes portrayed as scary, but it feels unintentionally campy as well. The characters seem a bit too successful and smug, joking through attacking machines and one violent encounter after another. The world itself is intriguing, with cleverly-designed sections and elements that all tie into each other using the skewed rules of dark fantasy; i.e. killer machines called Chitters eat time to live, and they steal it from the kids in Malice and store it in crystals. I also feel that the graphic portions of the novel are diminished by their small size and disjointed nature, but I believe that middlers growing up on manga and anime will not have a problem with the illustrations at all; in fact, they will think they are very cool. Mr. Wooding has created a series (the next book, Havoc, should appear next year) that will resonate well with its target demographic, but readers may be limited to specific fans of dark fantasy novels or comics like Sandman.

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