Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan by Darren Shan
|Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan by Darren Shan|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: This second instalment in Shan's new series is even more pacy and exciting as the first but takes the time to develop both plot and character in satisfying ways. Archie is beginning to be recognised as a locksmith of huge talent but he's also got to find his courage...|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 155||Date: March 2020|
|Publisher: Home of the Damned|
|External links: [www.darrenshan.com Author's website]|
If you haven't read the first book in this series, look away now! There may be spoilers!
Archie's second foray into 'the Merge' opens with a fantastic vista. All of the Born's most famous buildings and monuments - Big Ben, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower - are collected together, joined by those clever Merge vines. But there's no time to waste in admiration: Archie is carrying an urgent cry for help from Inez to a venerable locksmith called Winston.Winston is a darling but is afraid to help - what is to be done? Despite yearning to go home and worry for his foster parents, Archie feels an obligation to take Winston's place. And so Archie embarks on a new, and even more dangerous, adventure....
... book two in the first volume of Shan's new fantasy series gets us back into a familiar frenetic pace. There's plenty of worldbuilding still but it's woven into the action, Shan seemingly satisfied with the setting up and exposition in book one. I agree. This second volume is a rollercoaster of a ride with plenty of jeopardy for Archie and Inez. But particularly Archie. The plot hinges on rescuing a young girl from servitude to the Empress of Suanpan and the method is beating her at her own gambling game. It's all rather thrilling as Shan ratchets up the tension. Can Archie bring his peculiar talents to bear? And if he succeeds, can they escape a furious empress's revenge?
The Empress is a fabulous character. She presents as dowdy and dull, rather like Rowling's Dolores Umbridge, but underneath that unprepossessing exterior lies a vicious and ruthless power. But Shan writes her with his trademark wit and so she rises from the pages as a villain in the Roald Dahl tradition. We're scared of her but we laugh at her too. The supporting cast of characters in Inez's ragtag band of companions also begin to be fleshed out - I'm enjoying Cal best, who is a pugnacious type, always ready for a fight.
Archie continues to develop both his locksmithing skills and his courage and we see the beginnings of a character with a destiny. I like Archie. His impulse to do good is borne from the loss of his foster brother in a tragic accident and he's taken on some guilt over this, which he longs to purge by standing up to be counted and to do the right thing. It's tremendously engaging and sympathetic. The overall arc of the story continues to be a mystery - what is Inez's mission exactly? What is Archie's role? Who wants to stop her and why? - but we can feel it being subtly hinted at as we read.
Of course: recommended. Right. I'm onto book three. I'll be back with a review once I'm done!
If you enjoy stories of parallel worlds, you might also like The Nowhere Chronicles: The Double-Edged Sword by Sarah Silverwood, which features knights with double-edged swords!
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