When I was fifteen years old, I had long dreamed of becoming an author—at this juncture, for around ten or so years, or since I learned to read. I didn’t do anything about it. I’d blame my age for this oversight, but I only started work on my current manuscript at the tender age of forty. My excuse becomes even more ludicrous, however, when I look at Madness, the debut novel from fifteen-year-old Paityn E. Parque.
I bring up the author’s age because it is amazing to consider that these words came from the keyboard of somebody at such a young age, and also because the bulk of my criticisms have to do with said age. I won’t keep circling back to it, and the author’s age won’t affect my review: when I read a book, I read it on its own merits. So, naturally, when I review a book, I review it on these merits, rather than making excuses for why it may not excel in certain areas—a review should convey my opinion of the work, and whether I think it is worth the reader’s time. So, in a nutshell, Madness is good. And not simply good… for a book written by a fifteen-year-old. ‘Good’ is simply the end of that sentence.
Madness tells the story of Ezra, an eighteen-year-old murder victim. Rather than discovering the afterlife she expected, Ezra finds herself forced into playing a game. A game where she must kill… or be killed herself. The catch is that the players in this game return after death, able to kill—and be killed—again and again. While I haven’t read the Hunger Games books (nor have I watched the movies), at a surface level, Madness bears similarities, with young adults being forced into combat against one another. While I can’t speak for the author’s influence, it does seem to take some inspiration from Suzanne Collins’ work. The other thing this reminds me of—and again, it may have influenced the book, but may not have—are video games, where the player respawns to kill (and be killed) again, as well as unlocks new skills.
On a surface level, the plot appears to be rather simplistic, telling the story of Ezra as she is thrown into a battle arena and fights for her survival. However, through this narrative, Parque builds a mystery, drawing the reader in deeper and deeper. By having the mystery constantly in the background, it makes it easier to buy into the science fantasy setting and suspend your disbelief. No, this isn’t a normal situation, and that is part of what this story is about.
At 324 pages in paperback and an estimated 240 ‘pages’/swipes in ebook formats, the author packs a lot in. The prose is economic and wastes very little space: if something is unnecessary—a word, a paragraph, a sentence—it is kept out of the text. Largely this serves the book well, keeping its momentum and pace running quickly. It also enabled me to read this book in two easy sittings.
However, there are a number of points throughout where Parque could have elaborated further, whether it be in details or emotions. Core events tend to be skipped over quickly, which means they don’t sink in as much as they could. It results in these moments feeling smaller than they should, and also resulted in me feeling for the characters less than I would have liked, especially during those sadder moments.
While I would have appreciated it if the book had lingered more in key moments, this is something I will concede is a personal preference. One thing that isn’t a personal preference, is how much effort has gone into writing, editing and proofreading the book. As anyone who reads these reviews regularly may have noticed, if a book is sloppily edited, I will make a point of stating it. There are no such issues with Madness, and the attention to detail in this area is better than the majority of independent books I’ve read.
The prose is also bloody and brutal, as one might expect from a story about people repeatedly killing each other. Parque handles the violence well, transporting the reader inside these visceral moments. The action beats are distinct from one another, and the ‘feats’ (simply, powers) the characters are granted with add an element of surprise, as well as a deal of fun to the action.
My other criticism of Madness is that at points, the story leaps to simplistic explanations for events, where things are black and white, and there is very little space for grey to muddy things up. This is something I attribute to the author’s age and life experience. It is also something that doesn’t crop up very often, and it must be said is offset by the themes in this book. I won’t go into detail about those themes, though, because it would spoil the direction the story takes.
One thing I will warn you about is that Madness is the first part of a series. There is no mention of this on the book’s cover (or its Amazon listing). The book ends on a cliffhanger, rather than being a one and done story. It’s a hell of a cliffhanger and has definitely piqued my interest in the sequel. However, if you feel the need to have a story fully resolved, you may be disappointed. But if you’re open to a continuing series, the ending builds up to the next volume beautifully.Madness is a thoroughly enjoyable book, and one that I recommend, especially if you enjoy science fantasy, violence, dystopian horror, and young adult stories. The fact that this came from the mind of a fifteen-year-old is largely ancillary, however, I am keen to see where Parque’s writing goes from here.
She wasn’t going to kill innocents. She wasn’t like Jack and never would be like him. She was going to hunt the hunters. Devourers, Hoarders, Wolves, anyone she could find who took joy in killing. They all needed to pay.Madness, Chapter 13
Madness was provided by the authorfor the purpose of an honest review.
Madness is available in paperback and eBook formats from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon).
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