Jim Eldridge

The Malichea Quest, Book 1

Bloomsbury (2012)

ISBN: 978-1-4088-1719-3

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

The Invisible Assassin is the first in a young adult series. It’s a pretty good book for its intended audience; it’s not outstanding or particularly memorable, but it’s well enough written and is an original (if not very well worked out) idea.

Jake Wells is a trainee press officer for the Department of Science (in Britain). He has overcome a less than privileged background to get the job, and is determined to make the most of it. Mostly it’s not very interesting or very difficult, because he doesn’t have the university degree or the background “required” to get the sensitive jobs. But now Jake’s been assigned to a protest – a fairly dopey one, true – but if he handles the protest and the protestors well, he thinks he might be handed something more challenging next time.

Except the protest is going to give Jake challenges he hadn’t expected. Some sort of contamination is discovered at the site of the new science facility the protestors are objecting to. A very big coverup happens very quickly. But Jake can’t quite reconcile what he saw with what he’s now told he saw. He’s thinking about this when someone tries to kill him.

And before Jake knows it, he’s accused of murder, committing break and enter, suspecting his boss of all sorts of evil intentions, delving into the possibility of a secret society that’s centuries old, on the run … and hoping to reconcile with his old girlfriend.

This is a young adult book that probably won’t have a lot of appeal to older readers. Events are very hurried, and there’s a sense that if you stop to think about it too closely, parts of it won’t make sense. I certainly found some of the later revelations to be a little too convenient and not very convincing.

It’s a fairly brisk adventure story, with not a lot going on under the surface. The main plot is pretty much it; no subplots, no subtext, not a lot of subtlety. Most younger readers will find it palatable enough. Events are spelt out clearly, as are characters’ actions and (eventually) motivations. I found the centuries old conspiracy a bit silly, but I imagine that a younger reader with a fresher eye might be willing to swallow it. People have suspended belief around sillier ideas.

The characters were pretty flat, and I can’t say I cared a lot about them. Jake is eighteen years old, and not a very sophisticated eighteen years. He’s a bit stupid, not very self aware or particularly alert to the world around him, and really I’m not surprised his girlfriend dumped him. Quite a lot of readers, young and old, are going to wonder how he can continue being so stupid and survive. He doesn’t have a lot of charm. There isn’t really much wrong with him, I suppose; he’s honest and earnest and regrets his mistakes. But he’s not a character that makes me want to spend more time with him.

The story is narrated from Jake’s point of view, and the rest of the characters are even flatter than Jake. This may be due to his lack of perception, or more likely, it’s a weakness of Eldridge’s. This may also be a problem of his perception of how to write for young people; this is a fairly bland book in many ways. There’s no spark of fire in Jake’s relationship with his girlfriend, and in fact there seems to be a nice sanitised distance between every character in the book. Jake and his friends don’t think or act like teenagers, or indeed young adults. The violence – where there is violence – is very understated, and there was never any point where I felt a strong emotion surfacing.

The action is fast moving, and the book is well enough written in an easy style that’s not hard to zip through. Unfortunately, it simply lacks the something extra that makes a book stand out in your memory and makes you want to read the next in the series.

The Invisible Assassin will probably be enjoyed by readers at the younger end of the spectrum. It won’t test or stretch them, but will entertain them well enough for a few hours. Older readers are best advised to steer clear; the book is too bland to have much to offer them.