Friday, July 4, 2008

Lifeblood: Darkside, Book 2 -- Tom Becker

In Darkside, Jonathan Starling discovered the existence of a secret part of London ruled by the descendants of Jack the Ripper and populated by werewolves, vampires and other creepy-crawlies, as well as human criminals of every imaginable type -- blackmailers, thieves, con men, cat burglars, bounty hunters.

Now, in Lifeblood, a gruesome murder has Jonathan and Carnegie, his PI werewolf friend/mentor/protector on the case. They quickly discover that their investigation is connected to the Ripper family and may also shed light on Jonathan's mother's disappearance twelve years ago. Just as quickly, they discover that there's someone out there who will kill to prevent them from solving the case...

Lifeblood is a strong follow-up to Darkside. It's heavy on the action, awash in gallons of blood and features a fight scene every three or four pages. The descriptions of the different parts of Darkside continue to be imaginatively gruesome and easily, the highlight of the book. Definitely recommended to fans of Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak novels.

While I've totally enjoyed both books currently available to those of us in the US, they are geared towards an audience a bit younger than the books we usually cover here at Guys Lit Wire. But I chose to highlight them for a specific reason -- the story behind them. According to an article I found via J.L. Bell's Oz and Ends, the storyline and the ideas behind it didn't come from the author, but from focus groups:

Hothouse uses a market research company to put story ideas to children, who are observed from behind a one-way mirror. Using dummy covers, short excerpts and blurbs to prompt conversation, researchers ask the children their opinions on which characters, plots and ideas they enjoy most. Each child is also visited at home by a researcher, who finds out what kind of books they already own and read. Drawing on this research, Hothouse commissions a team of writers accordingly.
It's similar, I think, to what book packaging companies like Alloy do, and even to what the Stratemeyer Syndicate used to do -- but it seems like Hothouse has gone a step further. I'd love to know what you all think of the idea.


(cross-posted at Bookshelves of Doom)


Colleen said...

I actually have a review of Darkside going up in my column this month and I thought it was a really good story. I just read the article you linked to and I'm not so sure this is a bad thing. It sounds like they got an idea of elements that kids like in stories but still, someone has to write it and write it well. I have read really really (REALLY) bad books with werewolves, vamps, etc., so I don't think I'm going to knock Darkside for giving kids what they've asked for. It's still a well written story and that's what makes it popular.

(At least that's what I think! :)

Leila the Great said...

I think we're reading it the same way, Colleen -- he did all of the writing but the actual ideas for the storyline and the *stuff* (vamps, werewolves, really fun gory violence) came from kids in focus groups. Like, the kids said "we want this and this and this" and Hothouse said, "Okay, Tom Becker -- go for it!"

That is basically the same thing that Alloy does, right? They come up with the idea for a story and then farm that idea out to an author -- the difference here is that they're using real live kids in focus groups to get the ideas.

As I said, I really enjoyed both books -- if I sounded like I was knocking it, I sure didn't mean to! I just thought it was an interesting story behind the series and I wondered what other people thought about it.

(x-posted at Bookshelves of Doom)

Colleen said...

I am intrigued by the fact that a focus group like this has to exist - honestly this book read as a perfect MG/early teen horror/adventure other words I wasn't surprised by any of the elements. It is a good book - a very well written book - but did they really need to go to a focus group to figure out kids like to read this kind of stuff?

Heck - didn't we answer this question back when Goosebumps came out?

Leila the Great said...

No, I didn't find the elements surprising either -- I mentioned it being a read-alike for Cirque du Freak, but I think it would work for Skulduggery Pleasant, too. (Skulduggery is much more dashing and quite a bit less dangerous (to his friends) than Carnegie, but in both books the set-up is a kid acting as helper and protege to a supernatural being... close enough for me!)

Maybe they just wanted to find out if kids still wanted this stuff -- whether or not the market was saturated? Or maybe they asked them about everything under the sun and this is what the kids wanted? I'll be interested to see what Hothouse comes up with next -- do you know if they have a website? I couldn't find one.