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Beautiful Malice is by far the most gripping book I've read all year, or ever, actually. I've been impressed by quite a few books this year already, you know, but Beautiful Malice just took it to the next level. I was lucky enough to get this for review from the fab Laura at Faber, and this is (nearly) the most excited I've ever been about a book.
The story begins with, "I didn't go to Alice's funeral.", when an older Katherine is narrating the novel, unfolding the traumatic events that changed her life. All grown-up and with a child of her own, Katherine retells the story of the life she left behind.
Following the death of her sister, Katie decides to move away from her parents to start a new life in Sydney with her Aunt. A fresh name along with her fresh start, Katherine has a total personality change, quiet and reserved; until she meets Alice. The enchanting and charismatic Alice, who is content with living for the present.
But Alice has a malicious, edgy side to her that Katherine is struggling to understand. And when it's time for Alice to really unleash herself, it's too late for Katherine to prevent yet another heartbreaking disaster.
Alice made me feel really uncomfortable from the moment we met her. What scared me the most, was that I knew that there was something wrong, that she couldn't just be the enchanting, fun one. There was just something really suspicious about her. She was quite random and unbelievably intimidating at times. And her stalking abilities were just downright creepy. The cracks were beginning to show.
James has created such a chilling villain in Alice, that even though she makes you tremble with fear and shake your head with disgust, you can't help but feel utterly mesmerized by her.
Whilst reading this I was gasping out loud, in shock, in fear, in worry. I smiled, I cried and I laughed. I couldn't believe some of Alice's actions, how far she could actually go, her behavior was tested thoroughly throughout the novel..and there was just a point where I felt so sick, but somehow strangely fascinated. Alice is just..one of the most outrageous female villains I've ever read.
I am *actually* speechless. I've been hearing that this is the must-read of 2010, and that Rebecca James is the next JK Rowling. In my eyes, she is, so if you choose to read only one book this year, let it be this one, because, I believe this is the psychological suspense novel of the year, sophisticated and evocative, Beautiful Malice is a novel that will always haunt me.
That is all.
"So. Were you glad, deep down? Were you glad to be rid of her? Your perfect sister? Were you secretly glad when she was killed?"
17-year-old Katherine Patterson has moved city, changed her name and started a new school. She wants to forget the tragic murder of her sister and the media circus surrounding her family that followed and live in quiet anonymity. Keeping herself to herself she makes sure she doesn't attract any attention and doesn't socialise with any of her new classmates.
Then Alice decides to take her under her wing. Beautiful, fun and confident, Katherine is soon swept up by her charming and exciting ways and the two become close friends. Maybe she can start enjoying life again after all and not be defined by that one awful night she forever feels guilty for.
But there's more to Alice than meets the eye, and as the two become closer Katherine starts to notice the sinister and cruel twist to her new friend. But distancing herself isn't going to be easy; Alice doesn't like being dumped.
You know how sometimes you read about a book and instantly know you're going to love it? Well Beautiful Malice was one such book for me. But as I'm well aware, sometimes when you over anticipate something, it can turn out to be a let down. This certainly wasn't the case here and Rebecca James' debut novel was every bit as brilliant as I'd hoped. From the very first page, Beautiful Malice sucks you in and just doesn't let go. It begins with a short prologue and immediately creates questions you desperately want to know the answer to.
Told in the first person from Katherine herself, it's easy to connect with her right away. It's obvious she's had a traumatic experience, I felt sorry for this lonely and damaged girl despite not knowing what it was that had happened to her. When Alice takes an interest in her, I was as intrigued and delighted by her as Katherine herself is and could completely understand her becoming so caught up in her new friendship. I loved seeing Katherine emerge from her barricade under Alice's influence.
Alice herself is a fantastic character. She's impulsive, exciting, generous and larger than life. At times a little intimidating and forceful, but mostly the type of person whose glow we'd all like to bask in. But little by little we see her façade slip and a sinister turn to her character creeps in. This is done very slowly, with just a look or a strange comment that on it's own could be dismissed. But as the story grows, so does the creepy feeling you have towards Alice making her absolutely terrifying, without even knowing why.
The book is punctuated with flashbacks to the past and the evening when Katherine's sister was killed. Again, this information is trickled in slowly to the reader and while you know the eventual outcome quite early on, you have no idea what happened and why Katherine feels so much guilt. We're also served with glimpses of the future, five years after the story is set. I found this style fascinating as it added to the intrigue, creating even more questions I was desperate to know the answers to. It astonishes me how James has created so many dimensions and layers of past, present and future and manages to weave them all up together perfectly. I think it's also a great achievement and testament to how well executed this novel is, that there's absolutely no confusion or disruption to the story, it flows beautifully and is constantly suspenseful and intriguing.
While Beautiful Malice could be considered a book aimed at Young adults, because of the main protagonists age, I think this book is one that has a huge crossover appeal and will be appreciated by anyone who enjoys a very good psychological thriller (I'm not sure it's being marketed as a YA novel in the UK as I found it amongst the adult fiction in our local bookstore) In fact, I'd go as far to say that it probably isn't that well suited to a younger audience at all. There's some very disturbing scenes throughout the book, often quite graphic and I found myself shocked at times. I also felt that the characters seem very mature for their age, and most of the time I forgot they were teenagers. 99% of the book is set away from a school setting, which is really only used to introduce Katherine and Alice, and if I didn't actually know their ages I may have presumed them to be in their early twenties. For these reasons I'd be cautious about recommending this book to a younger teen reader and would urge those who wouldn't usually consider this book because of the characters ages and setting to put aside any misgivings and give this a try.
Beautiful Malice lived up to my expectations and more. Once I started this book I didn't want to put it down and not once in it's 350 pages did I become bored. The writing is beautifully descriptive, creating suspense and tension in the subtlest way then completely hitting you when you least expect it. The book leaves you with a lot to think about; how much responsibility should we take for others actions, how we must live with our choices even when we feel they're the wrong one's and how no matter how well we think we know someone, chances are we don't know anything. There's also some incredibly touching and beautiful scenes that had tears rolling down my face and a sense that despite everything, there's always a place for hope and love. With a debut like this, I can't wait to read more from Rebecca James. Highly recommended.
~ Other Information ~
Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James
Published by Faber and Faber 2010
After the death of her younger sister and the disintegration of her family, Katherine Patterson moves to Sydney and starts again at a new school. When the beautiful and charming Alice befriends Katherine, she's easily sucked into Alice's fabulous world and the two soon become firm friends. However Alice has a dark side, making her unnecessarily cruel and selfish, as Katherine finds out and soon Katherine is wondering if she and Alice are friends at all. When Katherine starts questioning hers and Alice's friendship she discovers yet another side to Alice: a side that doesn't like being put out into the cold.
Like most books I end up buying, I found out about Beautiful Malice on another book site. Someone added it onto their GoodReads page and because I adored the beautiful dark blue cover, I clicked it to see what it was about. Then I saw the quote, and I knew I had to have the book and I pre-ordered it and I absolutely couldn't wait for its release. I knew that as soon as it arrived (with an orange cover, which is still beautiful, but I quite liked the dark blue) I would have to read it immediately so I decided that after I'd finished The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen, it would be what I read next. I finished Tess's book yesterday and started Beautiful Malice this morning, not expecting to finish it today, but I have because it was that good.
Here's the quote that attracted me to the book (after the cover, of course): "So. Were you glad, deep down? Were you glad to be rid of her? Your perfect sister? Were you secretly glad when she was killed?" You have to admit, that is a pretty intriguing quote, no? It's a strong quote and is probably a quote that will make many people (like me) buy the book because you want to know the answer and see why such a question was asked. I certainly wanted to know the answer and I started the book eagerly, hoping to get stuck in. The book opens with a Prologue before heading into the main plot of the story, Katherine's friendship with Alice. At first, Katherine and Alice's friendship seems perfect; Katherine has just moved to the school after the death of her sister Rachel and Alice comes up to Katherine and the pair make friends and are joined in their little twosome with Robbie, a friend of Alice's and they become a threesome, always hanging out together.
It doesn't take long for Alice's spiteful streak to come out and she quickly went down in my estimation. When Robbie called her narcissistic, he was spot on in his assessment. Alice gets progressively worse culminating in Katherine questioning their friendship, which Alice obviously doesn't take too kindly. But while we're learning all of this about Katherine and Alice's friendship, we also learn about Katherine's life as it is now (five years later) but the most important aspect of the entire story is the flashbacks we get to the night Rachel, Katherine's sister, was killed. It's given to us in snippets and I didn't think we'd get the entire story of that night. In hindsight, I rather wish we hadn't, I must say. Eventually, though, it all tumbles out and it's not light stuff; nothing in the entire book can be described as "light". But what the book is, is that it's engrossing. It's so engrossing. I wasn't too sure at the beginning but I was sucked in quickly. All three separate, but interlinking, stories were interesting because it was, if I'm honest, as if Katherine was three separate people, one for each story, rather than one person throughout the book and that kind of showed how all of the incidents that happened had changed her.
It was hard to really get a handle on any of the characters; as I said, Katherine seemed like three entirely separate people, but I liked her. The journey she goes on is difficult and the guilt and despair she feels over the loss of her sister was rather enlightening and the way she sees herself and her life, you just couldn't help but feel so sorry for her. She was in a lose/lose situation; either spend her life feeling overwhelmed by guilt or attempt to move on and be shot down for doing so. Her friendship with Alice - and Robbie - helps her to try and move on until Alice's narcissistic side begins to take over and she begins to show some of her true colours. Alice was totally unlikeable, even when she was showering Katherine with attention and being her charming self, I just couldn't take to her at all. I did, however, like Robbie, a friend of Alice's. He seemed so sweet and I hated the fact that he was so stuck on Alice despite the fact she didn't seem to reciprocate those feelings. Two more characters come into the story, Phillipa and Mick, and I liked them, too. In fact, most of the characters were well portrayed. Even Alice was well portrayed and I really got a feel for each and every one of the characters.
Beautiful Malice is so well written, which is unusual for a debut novel, and is told entirely from Katherine's point of view. Which works, because we really get a feel for Katherine and we see things from her point of view. Katherine is unfailing throughout the book and the emotions we see from her are wide and varied and how Rebecca James managed to craft her so well is just awe-inspiring. But the stand out character is Alice. How Rebecca gave us Alice, I have no idea. She was narcissistic, selfish, but she was the most vivid character of the entire book and every scene she was in, she stole without fail. I might not have liked her, but I certainly admired her, in a weird and twisted way. What really made Beautiful Malice for me though was the absolutely shocking, jaw-dropping twist that happens. I was literally stunned and, even now, I still can't get over it. I'll debate over it for an absolute age because it was such a shock. I usually see twists in books coming, but this was completely out of left field.
Overall, I found Beautiful Malice a hard book to put down, but at the same time it was a difficult book to read. The death of a sibling is always going to be hard to read; the death of anyone in a novel is hard to read, despite the fact it's fiction, but in Beautiful Malice, under the circumstances, it was harder and it wasn't at all pleasant. The way in which the book is written though makes it hard to put down and, despite how the book plays how and despite the fact it's not a light read at all, I did love it. It's a psychological thriller at its very best and even now, a day later, I still can't get over how it all panned out. I'll continue to turn it around and around for a very long time and there's a good chance I'll have to re-read the book again at some point in the future just to see how it all comes across second time around. It's the mark of a good book when you can't forget it and Beautiful Malice was better than good, it was stunning.