Beautiful Malice – Rebecca James

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“Katherine has moved away from her shattered family to start afresh in Sydney. There she keeps her head down until she is befriended by the charismatic, party-loving Alice, who brings her out of her shell. But there is a dark side to Alice, something seductive yet threatening. And as Katherine learns the truth about Alice, their tangled destinies spiral to an explosive and devastating finale.”

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If you have read the hype regarding this novel , you would believe that Rebecca James is going to be the next JK Rowling. That is a big call, and not really fair to the author. Flattering? Yes. Fair? No. I too, knew sketchily of the details surrounding ‘Beautiful Malice’ – a bidding war at a book fair in Germany – or somewhere. I wasn’t really paying attention because I was, as most wannabe writers often are, too busy being insanely jealous. So of course when I picked up the novel I was expecting to be blown away.

I wasn’t. But what I did get was a solid read that kept me interested, if not utterly engrossed and up reading past 2am. But I must stress, that even though I didn’t love and adore this book, I can see the appeal and why many others would rate it very, very highly.

In this part romance, part thriller, we are introduced to Katherine Patterson, an intelligent girl who is completing her high school career, away from her family and friends. But we don’t worry about why too much, as we are swept up with Katherine’s new friendship with Alice and Alice’s ‘kind of’ boyfriend, Robbie.  Beautiful, sexy, crazy Alice. It soon becomes clear that crazy is definitely a word used to describe her. Spiteful, cruel, arrogant and scary also come to mind. Although Katherine has been dealt some horrifying blows in her life, she still has her wits about her, and when Alice’s behaviour becomes truly inappropriate, Katherine cuts her loose. Doing her final exams, nurturing a new love and finally being happy – an unhinged bestie is the last thing Katherine needs. Of course, that is when the fun really begins. Katherine’s tragic past becomes a focus for Alice; a means to wreak havoc on Katherine and those she loves.

It has been claimed that the novel has a strong ‘international appeal’, which I think suggests that it isn’t noticeably ‘Australian’. I can’t figure out whether that is an insult or not. It is Catch-22 for me. I love teen stories set in America, with the school hallways indoors, the cafeterias, snow, no school uniform and ‘mom’. I suppose that with a tweak of mum to mom, the change a some place names and a bit of a flora readjustment, this story could be set anywhere. Does it matter? I guess not. I am just not sure if it is a sell-out when a story set in Sydney, by an Aussie author doesn’t feel Australian.

‘Neutral’ setting aside, I liked Katherine. She has a good head on her shoulders – she doesn’t fall prey to Alice’s manipulation and has the strength to end their friendship. Alice is just a nasty piece of work, all the things you expect a bunny-boiling villain to be, but you do wonder how she got so far hiding her crazy. That in itself is impressive, if not a plot hole. Robbie, who makes up the third member of the trio is sweet and gorgeous – you want to hate his weakness where Alice is concerned, but well, she’s gorgeous and seductive and fun, and he’s a boy. What can he do in the face of that? He is not totally clueless; he does realise the hold Alice has over him, and he does pull her up on her behaviour when necessary.

While I don’t want to give to much away regarding the plot – as a thriller, you need the surprises – I feel that Katherine went through a hell of a lot to achieve what happens at the end of most teen romance novels. I know this isn’t a teen romance, but if the murder, mayhem and Alice’s crazy was notched down a bit, it could be. With a bit more swearing. When you reach the end of this novel you will feel wrung out and maybe a little hopeful, that the good, decent characters will finally get what they deserve – peace and happiness. Early on in the novel, we know Alice got what she deserved. You just have to read on to find out how.

Pages: 283

Publication Date: June, 2010

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Challenge: Debut Author

Rating: [rating:3.5]

Teaser Quote: Robbie’s father puts his hand on Alice’s arm and pulls her in beside him. Alice’s face is absolutely inscrutable – and though she’d looked shocked when she’d first seen us, she now looks perfectly comfortable, slightly amused even, as if this whole situation is just a game, and we are the toys.

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