Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux flies to London for the start of a new life at boarding school. But her arrival is overshadowed by a sudden outbreak of brutal murders, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific work of Jack the Ripper.
‘Rippermania’ grabs hold of London, and police are stumped with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory has seen their prime suspect on the school grounds. But her friend Jazza didn’t see anyone.
So why could only Rory see him? And what is he planning to do next?
If you read the news, you might be aware that we have not had a good few weeks here in the UK. We have pretty much been lurching from one disaster to the next without much in the way of breathing space.
A distraction read was definitely needed, and it was with that in mind that I turned to one of my faves: Maureen Johnson, one of my personal YA queens. Last week I binge reread the first three Shades of London books.
These books have everything you need for a good distraction.
- Boarding school
- Love triangle (emerging)
- Ghosts (especially snarky ones who love The Smiths)
Really anything else is extra, but in The Name of the Star, Johnson spoils us. It’s half cute contemporary American girl in London story, half murdery ghost hunting thriller. All the elements fit together in a way that is seamless and compulsively readable.
Rory is a fantastic protagonist. She’s a New Orleans-ean (is that a thing?) figuring out the etiquette of Londoners and her newfound ability to see ghosts – and she manages it all while resisting trope-ish special snowflake behaviour. She brings with her from the US a cast of eccentric characters in the form of her family and friends back in Benouville (Ben-ah-VEEL, for the uninitiated), stories about whom Johnson uses masterfully for both comedic and dramatic effect (you wouldn’t think that a story about a guy with eight freezers could leave you feeling like someone grabbed your entire heart with their fist, but during The Name of the Star, you’ll learn that it can).
Despite a good chunk of the first book being dedicated to the non-ghost related friends Rory makes at boarding school (who are mostly plot devices for what comes later, but sweet and entertaining nevertheless), it’s a pacey read. The majority of the novel is first person and narrated by Rory, but the narrative is interspersed with third person chapters concerning people related to, but also outside of, the immediate plot – murder victims, computer hackers and journalists. It all works together to create the sense of the ‘Rippermania’ that grips the city, the fear and the obsession that is fascinating, sickening and unavoidable.
There is always something terrible happening somewhere. If you’re lucky, it’s somewhere else.
(Spoiler alert: Rory is kind of an unlucky person.)
And then Rory meets the ghost police. They are all – for somewhat tenuous reasons – teenagers, and working for the arm of the government even the government doesn’t know exists. Stephen Dene, Bhuvana ‘Boo’ Chaudhri and Callum (who I have just this second realised doesn’t have a surname? If I’m wrong about that please correct me) AKA the ghostbusters are the kind of supernatural team we all want to join. Callum, the angry, let’s ‘kill’ ‘em all soldier for justice against evil spirits; Boo, friend of the ghosts; and Stephen, the emotionally unavailable head of operations I couldn’t help but fall in love with.
This book has the right levels of teen crushes, slow burn romance, epic teamwork and bloody murder – which it is, btw. It’s about Jack the Ripper: there’s no such thing as sparing us the gory details.
The Shades of London is a refreshing series from a great and witty writer. It has something for everyone – whether you’re looking for a cute contemporary, a paranormal with a slow burn romance or a thriller so intense it’ll make your blood run cold.