The Shadow Cabinet

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for the earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels [here] and [here].

The Shadow Cabinet was written by Maureen Johnson and first published in 2015. It is the third instalment of the Shades of London series and follows The Name of the Star (2011) and The Madness Underneath (2013). This book carries on exactly where previous instalments have left off, so you really do need to have read them all in order to have any idea about what’s going on.

Rory Deveaux only came to London to study, but could never have imagined how much it would change her life. Over the last few months, she has nearly died, faced the Ripper and gained the ability to dispel ghosts with a touch. However, nothing could have prepared her for Stephen’s sudden death. Although Rory used her power to try and ensure that he would return as a spirit, now she faces a problem. She has no idea where Stephen’s ghost will manifest or what kind of condition it will be in when it does.

Meanwhile, Thorpe has pooled all of the resources that the organisation has into finding Jane. Charlotte is still missing and with every moment that they delay, their chances of finding her alive grow more remote. However, Rory is also technically a missing person and this presents extra complications. If Thorpe wishes to keep using her power, he has to keep her hidden her away from her searching friends and parents, which in turn limits her ability to hunt for Stephen.

Stuck in the safe-house with nothing to do but look through Stephen’s belongings, Rory starts to uncover a deeper mystery. Stephen has been researching a secret society known as the Shadow Cabinet – one that has devoted itself to protecting a group of standing stones that maintain the barrier between the worlds of the living and dead. Slowly, Rory begins to see a connection between the existence of this order and Jane’s crazy cult. Could Jane’s plan to defeat death have something to do with the stones?

One of the biggest issues that I had with The Madness Underneath was the fact that it completely changed the tone of this series. The Name of the Star was a pretty solid ghost story, genuinely creepy in places and maintaining its tone well. In The Madness Underneath, this was not the case at all. While the ghosts still featured in the novel, it was more of a character study that focused on how the events of the first book had affected Rory. The Shadow Cabinet is something different again.

This story has fewer ghosts than ever before. Seriously, I can only remember Rory interacting with two ghosts over the course of this entire novel. Now, the story has taken a turn for the strange. It’s a novel about crazy cults, secret societies and Ancient Greek rituals to banish death. It’s a bit of a weird direction for the series to take. We already accepted the existence of a secret branch of the MI5 devoted to hunting ghosts. Now there is an even more secret organisation behind the scenes, one so secret that not even the MI5 knows that they exist. Yeah. That’s quite strange.

Johnson’s whole style of writing has changed quite dramatically in this book. While previous instalments were quite slow burning, this novel started out running and never slowed its pace. While this made the book quite easy to read, I was disappointed by how little excitement Rory’s situation built. There aren’t really any big moments in this novel. Everything is downplayed and never really felt as though it amounted to anything. While previous instalments hinged on rather massive twists, there was nothing comparable in this story. Even the climax didn’t really build to much.

There is also a lot more exposition in this story than there was in the others. We are told a lot of things in this novel – the importance of the standing stones, the nature of the Shadow Cabinet, what became of the Eye of Isis – and it just felt clumsy. Worse still was that, even with this exposition, the book was very confusing in places. While the climax shared some striking similarities with Ghostbusters II, it was still decidedly unclear what was going on or why it was so much of a threat. I mean, Stephen indicated that the “fog” was likely to be deadly, but no one was ultimately killed by it. So why exactly was the breach in the barrier a problem?

It was also not entirely clear how Jane’s cult ties into proceedings. It was evident from the prologue of this novel that the cult isn’t actually Jane’s brainchild – it was created in the 1970s by a potentially incestuous couple known as Sid and Sadie. These two seem to be the true villains of this series, yet I could not tell you want their plan is. They show up, murder a few people and exposit that they have some kind of greater scheme, but we never find out what this is. I suppose that Johnson intends to address this in a future instalment, but for now it just felt weak. I have no reason to fear Sid and Sadie because I don’t know what they actually have planned.

Yet it is in terms of character that this novel really was a let-down. There is no development at all in The Shadow Cabinet beyond Rory doing some slightly questionable things to save Stephen. We don’t see any ramifications for her actions at the end of The Madness Underneath and she barely interacts with her old allies. Once again, this is Rory’s show and all other characters are incidental.

Naturally, this was a bit of a disappointment. We don’t really see how Stephen’s death affects his closest friends. I mean, Rory has known him for a matter of weeks. They kissed once, and yet it seems to affect her more greatly than it does Callum and Boo who have both known him for years. However, the author sends Callum and Boo off on their own mission and after this we barely see them again. We also don’t get many scenes of Rory and her old classmates. Although Jerome does feature in this story, as he and Rory have split up and she is no longer at the school, they don’t really have any meaningful exchanges. I think we see more of Thorpe in this story than the usual supporting cast, and we still learn next to nothing about him either!

So, I think I’ve ranted for long enough. As you might be able to tell, I was a bit disappointed with The Shadow Cabinet. I really loved The Name of the Star but the series now seems to be evolving into something very different. It lacks the tension and creepiness of the first book and just seems to becoming some weird hybrid of Ghostbusters and a Dan Brown novel. I’m not sure where Johnson intends to take the story from here, but I suppose we will find out when the next instalment is released next year.

The Shadow Cabinet can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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