by Rob Thurman
I took a quick break from Rob Thurman’s series to let my mind recover from the all the angst by reading something lighter (hah! So much for that!) but I couldn’t stay away for long.
The third book in Thurman’s series is Madhouse, yet another action-filled, angst-ridden journey for Cal and Niko Leandros and their community of nonhuman friends.
This time there are two separate, unrelated threads guiding the book. The main plot is the resurrection and escape of a powerful creature called a redcap who once went by the name of Sawney Beane, the notorious 16th century serial killer. The other is a series of attempts on the life of Cal and Niko’s puck cohort, Robin Goodfellow, by an unknown assailant.
Business first: Sawney Beane is a case brought to them by an associate of Promise’s, who works in the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. When Sawney was resurrected from ash after centuries, he immediately went on a violent and not terribly discreet killing spree; Cal and Niko naturally take on the task of finding and stopping him, but this takes an awfully long time because they keep getting their asses thoroughly handed to them by Sawney. One particularly nasty encounter leads to the introduction of a new recurring character, Delilah, the sister of Flay, their werewolf ally from Moonshine. Like Flay, Delilah works for the werewolf ‘mafia’, the Kin, albeit with a few less burned bridges; Delilah, however, considers herself more of a ‘free agent’ and does pretty much whatever she pleases, which includes starting up an intimate relationship with Cal.
Delilah is a pretty interesting character; she obviously has a bit of a dark past herself, but she doesn’t seem to let any of it bring her down. I hope she sticks around for awhile, though I’m not one hundred percent sold on her sticking with Cal. Delilah, unlike sweet little Georgie, stands on her own two feet without seeming to be simply a love interest for the lead. I hope we get a chance in later books to explore her dynamics with other characters, but we don’t get very far with her here.
Despite his near–imperviousness, appetite for ravaging flesh, and his creepy army of the dead, I didn’t find Sawney as terrifying as I was supposed to. It was more frustrating than anything. The battle with Sawney seemed to set the tone for this series: a bunch of flubbed encounters and proverbial stumbling, some big setbacks, rallying friends and allies, all leading to a boss fight and some messy aftermath. Sprinkle in a liberal helping of Auphe angst and voila, another Thurman classic. I’m not really knocking it. The formula works, for the most part, and it’s entertaining. But it’s hard to take any ‘Big Bad’ that isn’t Auphe seriously when we are told repeatedly how much worse Cal’s demonic ‘family’ are.
It’s the second plot of Madhouse that is much more compelling, as it involves a little window into Robin’s past. Of course, Goodfellow’s life spans such a long time period, this can only be a tiny, miniscule glimpse into the magnanimous puck’s legacy, but I suppose that makes it all that much more telling that it affected Robin so. The attempts on Robin’s life (and I assume, though it is never confirmed, that the crossbow bolt from Moonshine was a lead-in to this subplot) are the result thousands of years of vengeance for something Robin did long ago that he is ashamed of. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even think what he did was that bad, at least, not in comparison to the nasty things Cal and Niko fight on a daily basis. The whole plot serves to prove that not only is there more to Goodfellow than meets the eye, but that he is worthy of being Cal and Niko’s friend and the hero status that is thrust upon him through this relationship to the brothers. That is to say, if Robin feels that bad about something careless he did centuries ago, it cements the idea in your brain that he is not a monster.
The only thing I didn’t like about the subplot was how blaringly obvious it was who the secret foe would turn out to be. Oh, what’s that you say? An unknown assailant is trying to have a main character murdered? I wonder if it could be that random character that supposedly has always worked for him despite the fact that we’ve never seen or heard her mentioned before. Plus, Thurman went out of her way to make Seraglio likeable and mysterious, making it all that more obvious that she would inevitably betray them. And really, what the hell is wrong with her? She’s Robin’s personal cook for god’s sake, and she couldn’t figure out a way to off him discreetly?
In the words of the illustrious Nigel St. Nigel:
“Really? That was your plan? That has to be the poorest executed attack in history. I was two feet away from you all the time. I mean, you have to be absolutely, without doubt, the worst murderer I have ever seen.”
On the Auphe front, the demonic nightmares are conspicuously absent for the bulk of Madhouse but their presence is felt as Cal starts practicing opening portals and ‘traveling’ more. Cal took advantage of this inherited talent to rid themselves of Moonshine’s ‘Big Bad’ and he continues to practice using them to do more of the same in the future, despite Niko’s strong objections. It’s a bit ‘road to Hell paved with good intentions’ cliche, and of course reminiscent of Sam Winchester’s eventual reliance on his demonic powers in season 4 of "Supernatural," but it’s still fun to see Cal embrace something about his Auphe heritage and acknowledge that it gives him an edge over the enemy.
The Auphe themselves may not be physically present for much of Madhouse but they return in a big way at the end in a frustrating cliffhanger that I had to wait a year to see resolved the first time around and had me disgustedly chucking my book at the wall when I read it (and then silently fantasizing about the day I can do the same to my own faithful readers...). I’ll see you all in book four to discuss this latest turn of events!