A review by monicakessler
Double Cross, by Malorie Blackman


Double Cross, or as I like to call it, Tobey's Very Mad, Bad, Busy and Dangerous Summer....

Malorie Blackman is once again showing that time hones her craft. Not only does this book show further use of good structuring, but it also makes use of literary devices in a more coherent way. While the structuring of Checkmate and its juxtaposing timelines may have been stronger than that of Double Cross, this book at least is pacier than its predecessor, harking back to the first book in the series. Although not always “fast”, due to the internal monologues I've come to expect in the past few books in the series, it still makes it a quicker read than the previous two books, and the last section is almost galloping. The pacing isn't the only similarity with Noughts and Crosses though; reading this book, which is mostly about Tobey, felt like reading Callum 2.0. Obviously, there are definitely meant to be parallels, and I'm not altogether complaining because I like both characters, but it does make some things feel like a repeat – although possibly done better this time round(!).

The thing is that I feel this book has to be taken separately from the original trilogy – it stands on its own in a way. You might argue otherwise but this book feels the most like the “nought vs cross” mentality and theme is a background issue and just a component of the worldbuilding compared to the general “gangland drama” that the story explores. Like, all of Tobey's chapter headings have two crosses (indicating the double cross) rather than the nought that I'd come to expect from reading the previous books (because previously all perspectives had had the symbol related to their racial identity as their chapter headings). I think that's a sign of how it is now woven into the background rather than the foreground for this story. Ultimately it feels like a standalone YA novel about a boy getting sucked into gangland drama and what he has to do about it. Which isn't usually the type of book I'd go for, but it felt relatively well done here, particularly in the final stages of the book.

One issue I had is to do with character. First of all, several characters have distinct changes in personality compared to previous books. The one that stuck out like a sore thumb was Lucas Cheshire, who is now doing things that he would have decked another person for in the previous book. It's weird because Blackman could have apportioned those types of incidents to someone like Amyas, who doesn't even get a mention in this book. It just felt like a cop-out way to end the love triangle situation that was in the previous book. Other changes include Sephy, Callie Rose, and Tobey himself. I know there's meant to have been some “growing up” that's happened, but the previous book only ended, what, a couple of months before the start of this book?! It is just about within the realms of possibility but I would have preferred more of a journey for these characters to get there. Unfortunately it just feels like Malorie Blackman “started afresh” with these characters for this book, to varying extents.

Tobey's character now just seems like a “Kaz Brekker minus the invincibility” type which would be great, but for knowing how he was in the previous book. I had to adapt to his character to be able to enjoy what was going on. At least it wasn't all “tell not show” in terms of his intelligence; I was glad of several scenes which showed him piecing things together before others in a believable way. Sadly, in some places this was let down by unrealistic scenes, or choices that Tobey made being really stupid, even the ones that we were meant to think were smart.

Ultimately I feel like concluding that I'd prefer this book as a standalone... except that the context does add to it, so that argument falls down as well. Oh well, I think I'll just have to conclude that I did end up really enjoying it despite having my doubts at the beginning! Still not as special as the one that started it though.

4.25* I think I preferred it more than Checkmate (in spite of Checkmate being more relevant to the series overall) but I'm not 100% sure on that. Might just be recency bias.