Malice by Chris Wooding

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Malice by Chris Wooding

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A teenagers' comic has the power to absorb its readers into its nightmare world, until some brave spark enters it to put a stop to it all. The adventure that follows is joyfully dark, and spot on for the young graphic novel generation.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-1407103945

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Linger alongside a playground, overhear a youth group, eavesdrop on your teenager's bedroom, and you might just hear a whispered conversation about Malice, an underground horror comic some of them are keen on. It's actually so hard to find and mysterious that it might only be an urban myth. And certainly the ritual that has formed around it, that will lead you to disappear from the face of the earth, only to appear as a character in the next issue – and probably face a violent death; that's certainly not true. Is it?

Well Luke has gone and done it, and as a result has done and gone. Such is the nature of Malice however that it and its creators are very hard to pin down, so it is some time before someone with the investigative nous and the bravery of Seth will complete the ritual and enter the world of the comic for the purpose of revenge, and not as a dare.

Such is the nature of Malice the novel that it is a spooky, well-thought-out and brilliantly crafted production for the horror fans in the 12-plus age bracket.

You can trust a book by its cover, it seems, and as for this book's one, well. Embossed? Injection-moulded, more like. And the contents are equally bold in their bravura styling. It's not very long before we see pages being used in fresh ways (you'll see what I mean). And for the meatier action scenes in what is to come, we dip into graphic novel format, and we become the reader of Malice the comic.

The writing itself has a lovely depth to it, with excellent reveals put in now and again, and at the same time many more rich mysteries left unexplained. The action is not solely the purview of the cartoon extracts, either, and they're very good in written form too, but possibly the descriptive, mood and investigation bits are even better.

And, in the way of the superior horror, it has a theme – a topic or motive that one can infer however much one wants, or just never notice while enjoying the genre thrills. Here the theme is of teenage dissatisfaction. The children live in a world where their parents can sincerely say to them things such as There's everything you need in Leicester. Is it any wonder so many of the Malice characters have gone there through curiosity, boredom or for a challenging change from the norm?

It's a little disappointing to report the graphic novel extracts we get aren't of equally high standard, with more clarity needed at times. And sitting back and looking over what I'd just happily wallowed in, I decided the writing hadn't put me under the control of Grendel et al as much as it might have. That would have proved to be truly meaty and wondrous. Instead, with a couple of exceptions, it stopped giving me the willies unfortunately too early.

That minor quibble aside, there is no doubting the right reader will easily be giving this book five stars. It's a perfect amalgam of comic book and adventure horror, and the sustained darkness of Malice is going to be much appreciated by plenty of fans. There will be copious licking of lips before the first sequel – due an equally horrific twelve months after this series opener.

We at the Bookbag are very grateful for our review copy. We also have a review of The Ember Blade and Silver, both by Chris Wooding.

For a very differently-styled subterranean adventure, we can also recommend Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan. You might also enjoy John Dies at the End by David Wong.

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