The Plot: Seth, back in the real world, has just recovered his memories of the dark and dangerous world of Malice. He has barely time to grab a few things, including the mysterious Shard, say good-bye to his puzzled parents, before the monsters of Malice come for him. Meanwhile, back in Malice, Kady and Justin (along with the metal cat, Tatyana) race to find Havoc, a group of rebels who are fighting Tall Jake, the evil ruler of Malice. Somehow, Seth has to find a way back into Malice — and Kady and Justin have to find a way to survive.
The Good: This is a sequel to 2009’s Malice. Yes, you should read Malice first. As explained in my review of Malice, Malice is a horror comic that kids can enter: “a nightmare landscape with hellish mechanical creatures that attack, kill, tearing teens limb from limb.” By the time the kids realize that living a scary story is much different than reading one, it’s too late: at worst, they are dead; at best, they are trying to survive Malice with the hope of finding a way back to the real world. From here on in, spoilers for Malice.
When I reviewed Malice, I had several questions: “What is Malice? How was it created? Why are comic books luring teens to this strange dangerous world? Who is Tall Jake? What about the artist, Grendel?” In Havoc (which also concludes the series), all this questions are answered as Seth, Kady, and Justin struggle to stay alive while finding a way to defeat Tall Jake. As in Malice, many of the comics are included in the book, often working as a bridge between what is happening with different sets of characters. Havoc also provides plenty of action, inventiveness, and humor.
Seth is an intriguing character. About half way through the book, he muses “Seth, for his part, was enjoying the journey. . . . Seth liked the feeling of exerting himself, making his muscles work. Best of all, he liked the feeling of being an explorer. Out here, they had only themselves to rely on. Any help was days away. Back home, you were never out of cell-phone range of an air ambulance. You really had to work hard to get yourself into trouble. … Seth never felt more alive than when he was risking his neck… But here in Malice . . .here, he felt what he did mattered.” Seth views the real world as too safe, too boring, and Malice gives him the action and adventure he craves. It’s an interesting, if extreme, view of both our “real world”, what it means to grow up, and what today’s society offers to a teen like Seth who is more concerned about doing things and action than sitting back and watching TV or playing games or reading.
It’s funny, how sometimes, without planning it, the same theme comes up in one’s reading. Here, the issue of belief and the power of belief plays a significant role in Tall Jake and Malice. Is it just one of those odd reading coincidences? Or is it a trend that says something about today’s world?
If you have time, explore Wooding’s website, especially what he has to say about his books. It’s not just a quick blurb or list of awards — it’s also an honest look at what he wrote, and why. For example, for Malice/Havoc he says: “Malice and Havoc were an experiment in combining children’s books and graphic novels, and it was a lot of fun to be able to play in the visual medium for a while. The fate of any possible sequels is currently hanging in the balance, since the books are very expensive to produce and market forces may prevent Scholastic from publishing any more in the UK. If not, then I’m happy to let it stand as it is.”