“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 (something I don’t say lightly as I’m not one for censorship). 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 are 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.