Malice: Don’t buy it for the graphics

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewschildren's fantasy book review Chris Wooding MaliceMalice by Chris Wooding

The children’s fantasy/sci fi novel Malice is set in two worlds: modern day London and Malice, an eponymous comic book whose chief villain, Tall Jake, takes kids into the dangerous world of the comic if the right ritual is performed. In an attempt to better convey this two-setting concept, Malice melds a graphic novel/comic with a young adult/middle grade novel, with mixed results for the author (Chris Wooding) and illustrator (Dan Chernett).

The graphic aspect of the novel is by far the poorer stepchild here. The illustrations are mostly poorly or simply done, the action in the panels is not always clear, and it’s rare that one feels the illustrations are necessary or are enhancing the actual story. The concept isn’t a bad one, but it feels stuck in a (literally) muddy middle ground. Malice would have been more successful had the author either gone all-out with better illustrations (better drawn, more precise, more startling or engaging, more pages of them) or gone with none at all. Instead, the graphic aspect is more frustrating to the reading process than anything else.

As for the story itself, it’s a quick read with lots of action-filled scenes and likable, mostly realistic young characters. The pacing is sometimes uneven; some parts lag slightly, others go by too fast, and some problems are resolved too quickly, but the book mostly draws you through quickly and happily. The story is a bit thin; spending more time in some scenes and with some characters would have deepened the reading experience. As it is, it feels like a shallow dip rather than a full swim. And Malice itself, with its different zones (only some of which are explored here; the rest are saved for at least one sequel) is imaginative and interesting, but at this point it all feels a bit arbitrary, as if it were created just so the author would have some fun things to show. Granted, that is true of all fantasy and sci-fi, but it’s a richer, more rewarding experience if the setting feels like a natural outgrowth or a real world rather than an authorial construct. Younger readers probably won’t mind so much, but older ones, or readers with some experience with better-realized settings (such as those created by Suzanne Collins and Kristin Cashore) will probably feel a bit let down.

The characters mostly speak and act as children do, if a bit more brave than is likely even in an adventure novel. All three are likable and interesting and strong in their own ways. Seth and Kady are two Londoners whose friend disappeared into Malice. Seth, who longs for adventure, follows the friend into Malice and is probably the weakest of the main characters. He’s a bit too bluntly and plainly drawn, with too much of his development told to us. Kady, who remains in London to track a pair of mysterious people who may be involved with the Malice comic, is more interesting and her development is more subtly handled. Her story is also, in many ways, creepier and scarier than Seth’s, even though he’s in the strangely dangerous and cruel world of Malice itself, filled with deadly automatons and soul-sucking creatures. The problem is that the horror there is sort of stock and glossy even in its grimness and somewhat predictable, while the horrors in Kady’s world are both more and less typical (don’t want to give details away). The third main character is a boy Seth meets in the world of Malice. He has his own sense of mystery about him, beginning with his seeming happiness in being stuck in such a dangerous world.

Malice ends with some small resolution but mostly as a cliffhanger with the sequel clearly peeking up over the horizon. And with the arbitrary nature of the world of Malice, the author and illustrator can probably go for a few sequels if the story is popular enough, simply adding more unseen or unknown regions, though one hopes they don’t go down that road. Thin as the world-creation is, they’re probably better off keeping this a tight two-book story.

Recommended more for middle-grade or younger young adult readers, or ones less experienced in the genre. Those picking it up for the graphic aspect will probably be disappointed, though the story itself will most likely satisfy. Older, more experienced readers will find it a quick bite rather than a full meal.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMalice — (2009) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Everyone’s heard of it, but nobody’s read it… Seth and Kady have heard all the stories about MALICE — a secret comic about a strange and awful world full of traps andtricks, overseen by a sinister master of ceremonies, Tall Jake. But if rumours are to be believed, the children in this comicare real…

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who’s been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the “Notable Essays” section of Best American Essays. His children’s work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he’s not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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