[GIFTED] I know I have not done a book review in a very long time, but when Darren Shan reached out and offered me review copies of the first three books of his new Archibald Lox series I couldn’t say no!
Initially, I thought I would split it up into three separate book reviews, but once I got onto the second book it just made more sense to put these all into the one review since the second book picked up exactly where the first had left on, and so on and so forth. The three books are quite short so it does tend to feel like one big book split up into three – but with my brain absoltently melted by the pandemic, that’s exactly what I needed.
The first book, Archibald Lox and the Bridge Between Worlds, sees Archie – a troubled teen – not keen on the idea of going to school. He’s struggling with the death of his brother Dave, and the impact it had on his foster family so decides to hang out around central London instead. While on the bridge, Archie spots a young girl (who turns out to be a couple of centuries-old) escaping from assassins but no one else seems to notice the commotion. After a narrow escape from assassination himself he decides to take the opportunity to follow her into a new world, after all, what does he have to lose?
Archie finds himself in the Merge, which is an alternate world filled with those who died before their time. It’s like an afterlife, before an afterlife. He teams up with the girl, Inez, to accompany her on her quest and discovers that he’s a locksmith. In this world, a locksmith is someone who can pick invisible locks, undetectable to most people and helps Inez hop between realms to complete her mission.
By the second book, Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan, Archie was just about due to finish his adventure but got sucked back in. As a skilled locksmith, he’s the only one who can help Inez and returns. He then takes on Empress of Suanpan in a gamble, even if it means potentially throwing his freedom away. However, Archie’s heroic effort has some terrifying consequences.
My favourite part of this book and the next was how the members of the Thesp bring a sense of comfort and familiarity that Cirque du Freak readers would appreciate.
Then the third book, Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment, takes somewhat of a darker tone than the first two which were the more happy-go-lucky of the series. Like before, it picks up exactly where the second leaves off. Now Archie starts to piece what he thinks is Inez’s mission together and the entire realm at risk of being ruled by the SubMerged.
I was completely sucked in by these because they’re so fast paced.
The best thing about Darren’s books is the world-building. While a quasi-afterlife tale isn’t a new concept, Darren always gives existing tropes his own spin. It felt refreshing. The Merged is wonderfully weird with comical spots like the Island of Pineapples or the abode between worlds on the top of the Empire State Building on top of more serious spots. There’s a lot of fantasy elements without the clunkiness that usually comes with those books.
As I mentioned earlier, these are quick and easy to read. That doesn’t mean that they’re too simple, but they’re no nonsense which is something I always appreciate!
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know the Cirque du Freak series is one of my all-time favourite stories. This series is substantially less gory than vampires or the Demonata series so if you love YA but not so much outright horror then you’ll enjoy this. There are spooky moments with the Hell Jackals or the river of blood which means instant death but those instances happen less in this than in other books of his. If you enjoy suspense, magic and things beyond this world, then this is for you.
Older readers who enjoyed this would also love Midsummer’s Bottom or Procession of the Dead.
Overall, I loved these and I cannot wait to the remainder of the series. If you’re looking for a face-paced adventure that’s not too difficult to swallow then this is it!
If you want to stay immersed in the Merge, the good news is that the fourth book, Archibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt is out on July 4. Archibald Love and the Slides of Bon Repell will be out on August 4th, followed by Archibald Lox and the Rubicon Dictate on September 1st.