I am pleased to find myself reviewing a book by one of my favorite, if not much-read authors, Maureen Johnson. I read her Suite Scarlett when it first came out and found myself picking it up even when I only had a few moments to spare to read a quarter of a page; it was really that good. And The Shadow Cabinet, book three of The Shades of London series, follows in the same wonderful way.
The Shadow Cabinet opens with a scene that sets the tone for rest of the story. Everything that our heroes have faced thus far has been daunting, but now it’s gotten serious — so serious that even one of our main villains is having a few second thoughts. By mid-book I found myself reading double-quick trying to scoop in and process all the information that pours forth onto our characters. By the end I was audibly groaning quietly with the stain of claustrophobia and foreboding that final battles often bring.
One thing that roped me into The Shadow Cabinet was Johnson’s gorgeous attention to detail, the ability to make interesting the mundane. Hair dye never seemed so harrowing, yogurt never seemed so frantic. If you’ve ever been in shock after a life-altering event you might remember how lights are more glaring and everything is poignant yet distant. Johnson magically captures these sublime emotions and draws you into the room where the strain is absolutely palpable.
What I think I like best about Rory, Johnson’s lead heroine and newly-made terminus, is that her life is just one damned thing after another with some occult thrown in to make it extra spicy. Yes, in a book called The Shadow Cabinet, the occult is a major theme. But Johnson doesn’t forget that her main character is a young woman who is experiencing love, loss, and adventure. And for all the excitement magic can bring, the stress of just getting through a day in the life of a teenager can be challenging enough! Rory is very real to me, with all her awkwardness and worries, as she musters strength from the dregs of her reserves.
In the end I just want to sit down with Rory and give her a cup of tea and a biscuit and put the poor kid to bed. I think that’s one of the issues I have with YA fiction: everyone is living a life that is improbably too interesting for their age group. But then again, that’s the fun of it, to imagine ruby chalices and silver knives, to drive off in speeding cars to avoid the villain, and to face down evil and survive.
The Shadow Cabinet is good adventure, laced with ghosts and magic, and trimmed with cloaks and daggers. Although the series is rated for ages 12 and over, the “and over” crowd will definitely find it a fun read as well.
The Shadow Cabinet
by Maureen Johnson
Penguin Young Readers
Available at Amazon.
Maureen Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of more than ten young-adult novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, The Last Little Blue Envelope, Devilish, The Bermudez Triangle, Let It Snow, and Suite Scarlett. Her work is published in twenty-one languages. Maureen spends a great deal of time online, earning her some dubious and some not-as-dubious commendations, such as being named one of Time Magazine’s top 140 people to follow on Twitter. Outside of YA, she worked with Electronic Arts as the screenwriter for the handheld versions of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince video game. She holds an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and divides her time between her home in New York City and a mysterious dwelling outside of London. You can find her online at www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com or on Twitter as @maureenjohnson.