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Madhouse by Rob Thurman
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451461964
Date: 04 March 2008 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Half-human Caliban Leandros and his half-brother Niko are on the trail of something really bad this time -- but complications in Cal's personal life and a vendetta involving their friend Robin Goodfellow may overwhelm the brothers at a time when they can least afford the distraction.

This is the situation in Madhouse, Rob Thurman's third novel. Cal is dealing with heartbreak, knowing he cannot be with the love of his life, Georgina (who's a powerful psychic). She would become a target for the vengeance of his father's people, the Auphe (a dark and twisted sort of elves who nearly erased humanity from the Earth), and Cal can't face that possibility.

But he doesn't have long to brood. A break-out at the Natural History Museum suggests that a long-gone monster -- the Scottish redcap Sawney Beane -- has returned from the dead and aims to resume his man-eating ways in Manhattan. Though Niko and Cal track Sawney once, he proves far more powerful than they can handle, so they call in all the backup they can manage: Robin Goodfellow (immortal puck), Niko's girlfriend Promise (vampire), Delilah (werewolf) and a massive she-creature known as a boggle.

Their expedition ends in failure, even as an unknown enemy makes attempts on Robin's life for a past misdeed. Cal and Niko save Robin's life twice but the cause of the attacks remains obscure; Robin won't tell them a thing, possibly fearing their friendship would be over if he did.

Meanwhile, Cal takes advantage of Robin's matchmaking to "become a man", and Niko shows once again that he is Batman in training.

When Sawney's rampage takes them to a mental hospital downtown, however, things start to pick up speed ... and the brothers find out if they're good or just plain lucky, once they face off against the redcap in his newest lair.

Thurman continues to deliver strong tales of dark urban fantasy. Her New York City is richly imagined, with bars that cater to supernaturals (of all sorts -- she's not a Euro-snob when it comes to her choice of monsters), museums that hide surprising secrets (including a mummy with an odd choice of headgear), and lodgings from walk-up apartments to luxurious penthouses. It feels like a place where odd, strange and terrifying things can happen once the sun goes down (just like the real New York!).

Even better, she peoples this environment with terrific characters. Cal and Niko are basically the same as in the past two novels, but this doesn't mean they haven't grown; Cal is uncharacteristically aware of his wants and needs, especially now that they're "settling down" and making friends -- something they'd never had before. Between becoming friends with Goodfellow (whose ribald style is always enjoyable) and possibly becoming more with Georgina, Cal is growing up fast and finding his usual method of handling life -- vicious sarcasm and indifference -- isn't enough anymore.

Sawney Beane is likewise a great enemy for the twosome. Implacable, darkly humorous and more powerful than anything they've fought before, he's a terrific villain at the center of a deeper and darker mystery than either Cal or Niko have realized.

And lurking in the background, of course, is the fear that the Auphe aren't really gone after all, but are only biding their time. ...

Fans of street-level urban fantasy will enjoy this new novel greatly, though newcomers really ought to go back and read Nightlife and Moonshine first.

Recommended.

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