Malice is the first in a new series of young adult fantasy by Chris Wooding. In Malice, a mysterious gentleman named Tall Jack is kidnapping children by means of a comic book series (called, of course, "Malice"). If you read the comic book and then perform a simple ritual, Tall Jack will take you away.
Like all "urban myths", the book and the ritual are mysteriously known to every child (proving that Facebook still has a long way to go before it can match the adolescent rumor mill), but only a few have the means and the chutzpah to try it.
Amongst those that try are Seth and Kady, both of whom, for various reasons, are a bit bored with their pedestrian, middle-England lives.
Seth goes in first - only to discover that the land of Malice isn't just real, it is utterly horrific. Children are chased around by clockwork beasties, six legged albino crocodiles and weird fleshy-lump-things that defy description. The clever, brave and lucky can find a train ticket to escape. The rest? Trapped forever (at least, until they're eaten).
While Seth goes romping around within Malice, Kady is having her own adventures back in the "real world". Her hunt for her a copy of the comic book earns her a nasty chase scenes of her own.
Malice is an enthusiastic example of world-building, with adventurous, likeable protagonists that are more than happy to go plunging from one place to another to satisfy the reader's need for excitement. This isn't Alice in Wonderland (or even Abarat), but it is an entertaining "hidden world" adventure that kept me excited from start to finish. Plus, I've a soft spot for stories about evil books.
The enthusiasm that permeates Malice is evident in the design as well. The cover, with its raised graphic of Tall Jack, is brilliant (although booksellers must be having fits trying to cram them onto a shelf). The mixed comic book/written word format, however, still needs some work. It ties in cleverly with the larger premise (the creators of the "Malice" comic have no control over what/when they see to draw the pages), but isn't spectacularly well-done. I suspect that having all the giant gooey "big bads" in the comic book pages saved on Lovecraftian adjectives, but, without sounding bitchy, it needed better artwork. The half-manga style resulted in Seth, Kady and Justin all looking vaguely interchangeable.
My primary complaint is that Malice built to a sequel, rather than a conclusion, which I found frustrating. It worked - I'll pick up Havoc when it is released, but I'm a little resentful that the first volume didn't conclude in any sort of meaningful way. A few unresolved plot-lines are ok, but what happened to the good old days when the first volume of a trilogy was also a self-contained story? (It was always the second book that had the cliff-hangers)
A quick, entertaining read - just be prepared to buy the sequel as well.