There are all kinds of rumors about a mysterious comic book called Malice. Most kids say the comic book doesn't exist, but everyone feels a chill creep up their spine when they talk about "the ritual." When Luke tells his friend Heather that he actually has a copy of the book, she doesn't even want to see it. But when they look inside, they read about horrific, frightening things. Heather tells Luke to put the book away, and he sees that she really is scared. He teases her for believing the all the stories, and just to prove it all is false, he performs the ritual, and repeats six times: "Tall Jake, take me away."
Nothing happens immediately...but rumor has it, Tall Jake waits until you're all alone...
When Luke vanishes without a trace the following day, his friend Seth suspects that Malice is involved with Luke's disappearance. He confides in his friend Kady, and together they set out to bring Luke back. Their search leads them to a seedy comic book shop where a creepy man works, and they have a feeling that he knows more than he's letting on. When Seth sneaks out with a copy of the fabled Malice in his hands, and he and Kady open it, they are shocked to see their friend Luke depicted in its pages. The rumors are true - Tall Jake has taken Luke into the dark, cruel world of the comic book, and they watch helplessly as, terrified, he is pursued through its panels by nightmarish creatures.
Malice is an arresting book, with its red embossed cover featuring the foreboding figure of Tall Jake, and the book itself has the sturdy heft of a textbook. I was initially a bit worried that the clever cover might be designed to distract from a less substantial story, but I'm happy to report that it the text and illustrations are a perfect fit. Teen fans of horror should have a lot of fun with this one, particularly with the alternating segments of text and comic book panels that give an occasional firsthand glimpse into the dark world of Malice. There isn't much character development to speak of, but Seth and Kady are sympathetic characters that will quickly gain the affection of readers. The story is fast-paced and intriguing, with tantalizing puzzles and clues, and while the world of Malice at first seems like a purely horrific place, we learn that it there is more to it than cruelty and violence. The book is only the first part in a two-volume series, and while there is a fairly satisfying conclusion, it is clear that there is more to come, and many issues remain unresolved. I am looking forward to Havoc, the concluding volume - and also to trying some of the many other books that Wooding has written. Lovers of dark fantasy are sure to have a great time with this one.
Malice by Chris Wooding; illustrated by Dan Chernett (Scholastic, 2009)
Also reviewed at:
Bookshelves of Doom: "In other hands, I think the switches in format -- from text to comic and back again, as well as some playing with font size and text placement -- could have felt gimmicky and annoying, but because of the storyline and because Chris Wooding can write, it all worked."
A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy: "Wooding once again does a fabulous job of creating a complex other world, with geography and mythology fully formed but never fully revealed."
Today's Adventure: "I'm not usually one for reading graphic novels, but I really enjoyed the comic book portions of this book. The drawings were great for bringing the bizarre new world into focus, and the darkness of them built up the suspense factor in a way words couldn't have done."
Utter Randomonium: "The art, unfortunately, is pretty poor, to the point where I was having trouble distinguishing between the characters. I was a little disappointed in the ending as well, which is more or less a cliffhanger to be (presumably) resolved in the next book."