Friday 29 January 2010

Review: Blackjack (Darkside) by Tom Becker

Jonathan is shocked when he finds out his mother has been locked away in Darkside's most infamous madhouse, The Bedlam, for years - and he's determined to rescue her. But with the rotten borough's brutal new leader causing mass chaos, a mysterious stone wreaking havoc on all who possess it, and the wereman Carnegie nowhere to be found, will he be able to save his mum without losing everything else?

As John 'Hannibal' Smith stated many times in the 80s..... "I love it when a plan comes together" and that is exactly what Tom Becker delivers with Blackjack, his final instalment in the brilliant Darkside series. All loose ends have been tied and the story arc started back in 2007 with Darkside is finally brought to a deeply satisfying conclusion. 

Back in 2007 Mr Becker was the winner of the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize for that first book in the series, and the quality of writing and has been of a consistently high level ever since, so is was with much anticipation that I ordered  Blackjack after seeing it on Amazon before its official release date of 1st February. However, it is also with some trepidation that I approach reading 'last in a series' books where I have greatly enjoyed all of the previous books - there is always a lot of pressure on authors to reward their long-standing readers with a satisfying conclusion, and not all authors manage it. I am delighted to say that Tom Becker certainly did not disappoint. 

If you have not yet discovered the Darkside series then where have you been over the last few years? Just to set the scene, the books focus on a boy called Jonathan who discovers a world hidden in London; a world run by the ancestors of the infamous Jack the Ripper. It is a world resembling a totally depraved Victorian society, populated by the very dregs of society - murderers, thieves, vampires, werewolves and a host of other particularly nasty characters and creatures.  The books are full of action, blood, horror and really great characters.

I am reluctant to say too much about the plot of Blackjack, for fear that it will ruin your enjoyment of earlier books in the series, should you not yet have read them. Suffice to say that the action is more non-stop in this book than in any of the previous stories as all the scene setting took place a long time ago. I finished this book in one sitting (reading well into the night) as I refused to put it down for fear that I might stumble across another review for it with accidental spoilers that could ruin my reading experience. Throughout the series Mr Becker has also developed the quality of his horror writing - this is a series of books that will have great appeal to readers new to the horror genre, who are maybe only just discovering Darren Shan's Vampire books.

The best part of the Tom Becker's writing has, for me, always been the way he describes the locations in Darkside and its inhabitants - even though you know it is an incredibly dark and dangerous place he manages to tempt you into wanting to visit this den of thieves. He makes the forbidden sound so thrilling and exciting, and Lightside (our world) sound boring and oppressive.  Over-imaginative readers (like myself) will, when visiting London, find themselves wondering.........

With the current popularity of all things steampunk, hopefully more readers will try the Darkside series with its quasi-Victorian setting. The Darkside books are suitable for readers of 11+; Blackjack is the fifth book in the series published by Scholastic and is scheduled to be in stores on 1st February, but if you're lucky you may spot it early.

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