Sunday, July 10, 2022

Archibald Lox and the Legion of the Lost by Darren Shan

 






"I look deep into those eyes--those warm, wise, friendly eyes, which won me over the first day I set foot in the Merge--and can't say no. She's guarded and instructed me to the best of her abilities while I've been here. Inez is the closest friend I've ever had, and I know she wouldn't ask this of me if there was any other choice.

'It's been a ride, hasn't it?' I smile.

'There'll be other rides in spheres beyond this one,' she says."



  Everything from the moment Archie stumbled across the Bridge Between Worlds has led to this point. Every lock he's picked, every friend he's made, every set of walls that have closed in on him--from kidnapped princes to rescued princesses, from mad kings to devious empresses--has led us to this: Archibald Lox and the Legion of the Lost, the ninth and final story in the Archibald Lox series.
  I do not say this lightly... This is one epic book. 
  From the moment we pick up from book 8, the Pick of Loxes, to the moment I tearfully tapped my phone to access the last page, I was enthralled. Utterly and completely enthralled. I was surrendering work, television, socializing time, and other books to just read one...more...page. 
  The brilliance of this conclusion I have no doubt, stems from the attachment Darren Shan has built between his readers and his characters. Like a speeding car desperately slamming on the brakes, I realized too late that there was no stopping. The acceptance that this book was going to end before I was ready was inevitable. I tried to slow down my pace, to savor the story before its end, but I couldn't stop clicking to get to the next page. I was tearing holes in my bottom lip from tension, fretting over just what Darren Shan had in store for these characters I'd grown to consider family. 
  Oh, this book. This book is a masterpiece with a "coming of age, fantasy novel" label. If installments 1-6 are the thrilling anticipation of climbing the long climb up a rollercoaster, 7 & 8 are the twisty, turning (or "Tourney"), speeding, whips and tosses up and down, left and right, and book 9 is the out-of-breath, euphoric, dizzying reminder of why you got on in the first place. Archibald Lox and the Legion of the Lost, in fact, Volume 3 as a whole, is the very epitome of the phrase, "saving the best for last." 
  Darren Shan has, once again, done what he does best; deliver an epic ending to an epic book series.
  Through his words, I was transported into Archie and Inez's shoes, facing the same dangers they were facing. Finding myself in predicaments that only miracles of the Merge can solve. And when his readers reach that all-too-familiar, classically Shan, "aha" climax of the series... Well. Let's just hope they handle it better than me. Darren Shan is notorious for messing with my head and permanently scarring my emotions in the best way possible, and thanks to the Legion of the Lost, the saga of Archibald Lox is no exception. I have a pile of drying, snotty tissues that can attest to this.
  I hope you, whoever's reading this, will take a chance on Archie and his venture into the Merge. I am so grateful I did, and I am even more grateful to Darren Shan for providing this humble reviewer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a peek through the boreholes before the rest of the world. Archie's story is one that will forever hold a special place in my heart, and hold permanent residence in my head. 
  I won't say goodbye to my fictional friends, because that's not what's done in the Merge. So, here's to this sphere, and, to paraphrase our favorite camel, to the "rides in the spheres beyond this one."


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Archibald Lox and the Pick of Loxes by Darren Shan

 




"I know you for what you are, prince of locks and lies, and now it's your time of reckoning." 



When we last left the endlessly twisting and disorienting world of princes, princesses, red skies, vines, boreholes, and Lost Zones, we helplessly watched from our paperbacks and ereaders as our Born hero, Archie, dangled like a worm on a fishhook at the edge of pure peril...almost quite literally. As I'm certain it did for everyone eager to see what Darren Shan had in store for our master of locks, Archibald Lox and the Sinkhole to Hell (book 7) had me practically salivating to sink my teeth into the next installment.
  Book 8, Archibald Lox and the Pick of Loxes did not disappoint. Not in the very least. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that this chunk of Archie's story is now my favorite of the series, as it further convinces me that before this fantastical tale comes to an end, it's only going to get better
  Is that even possible? This is a Darren Shan novel. Of course it's possible. 
  Archibald Lox and the Pick of Loxes is an unbridled example of the delight this author feels when he lures his hungry readers down a rabbit hole of magic and mischief, making them realize far too late that they've been trapped in a story that will keep them up until the wee hours of the morning to finish. The time for Darren Shan to hold back is no longer. He is done pulling punches, and that is clear to me now more than ever since it's been just over 12 hours since I finished the book. 
  I feel like I'm repeating myself, but I can't help it when in all honestly, I feel as if I can't praise this book enough. From the moment we're introduced to an unlikely ally of Archie's, to the very last paragraph which, unironically, is the same moment my jaw hit the floor, I was hooked. I was stuck in a purgatorial state of wanting to read another chapter in each and every waking hour of the day, and wanting this book to last ten times longer than it was meant to last. Was it because I know that the end of the story of the Merge is nigh? Or is it because Archibald Lox and the Pick of Loxes is just plain and simple, a very, very good story? I'll let you, readers of The Literary Connoisseur, figure that one out for yourselves. 
  Truth be told, even though it started with undeniably adrenaline-pumping chapters, I grew more and more infatuated with this book as it went on, finding myself lost from the real world and entirely immersed in the sobering, thought-provoking conversations between Archie and the mad King Adil. Of course, it wasn't long after that that I graduated to feeling as if the rug had been pulled out from under me as each loose end began to be tied off and cauterized.
  Who was Stefan? 
  Will King Adil succeed in carrying out his mad plan? 
  Where does Archie's fate lie? Back in the Born where he belongs, or in the Merge with his friends, his destiny...and that strange voice that knows his future better than he knows it himself? 
  Two things are for sure: One, I can't reach the conclusion to this series soon enough. Even now, as I'm sitting here jotting down my thoughts on book 8, I'm wondering how soon in hours it'll be before I can jump into book 9 with both feet. 
  And two, there's no doubt in my mind that Archibald Lox will soon be going back on my "To Be Read" shelf. I would be doing him and Darren Shan a serious disservice if I didn't give this saga a reread. 



Sunday, May 15, 2022

Archibald Lox and the Sinkhole to Hell by Darren Shan






"I tried to forget about the Merge after my first visit. I hoped to slip back into my old way of life and put that sphere of wonders behind me, figuring I’d enjoyed my adventures in another universe, but that was that, time to focus again on my foster family, school and the 'real' world. But the Merge had other ideas. It reached out for me and I was dragged back in."


  There's a warm, welcome, and familiar feel to cracking open the first installment of an Archibald Lox trilogy, but proceed with caution, because unlike volumes 1 & 2, volume 3 is accompanied by a sinister shadow.
  As our beloved tale of Archie and the Merge continues on, the stakes grow higher, the price to pay for realm-rescuing, life-threatening adventures becomes more costly, and around every corner, there's an unsettling reminder that Archie and Inez's story is coming to its final conclusion. It's clear to the eyes of both new and seasoned Archibald Lox readers alike that Darren Shan is enjoying teasing his audience with anticipation, playfully dangling the shoe that's inevitably going to drop as we hurdle at Slides-of-Bon-Repell-pace towards the climax of the story. 
  Although every epic saga must come to a close sometime, the fantastical, mind-bending wonders of the Merge are far from over. In Archibald Lox and the Sinkhole to Hell, we are honored with the acquaintances of new royals, we journey to outlandish territories of the Merge like New Agartha (my now favorite capital city, followed closely by Niffelheim), and once again, we are overwhelmed with a seemingly endless supply of enchanting corners of this magical land that we have yet to explore. 
  With an absolutely astonishing sphere like this to call our second home, one can understand why Archie doesn't return to the real world, the world of the born, for long. 
  Whether you're aware of Darren Shan's knack for building worlds in the minds of his readers because you yourself are a fan and can give a firsthand account of his extraordinary ability to weave a tale, or you've witnessed my many, many testimonies through my reviews, it can be said with certainty that this Archibald Lox installment is a clear and simple example of this writer's capabilities. Darren Shan has a way of using words to paint a picture so clearly on paper, it's as if a movie you've seen a hundred times before is playing in your head. 
  Archibald Lox and the Sinkhole to Hell is an emotional, thrilling, and wonderous tale of friendship, adventure, self-discovery, and loyalty prevailing over corruption. With the exhilarating lead-up that we have in this, book one of volume three, there is no doubt that readers will be rabidly scrabbling to get their claws into book two. 





Pssst! Before you go!

Does this reusable shopping bag remind anyone else of the wrap zone? Watch out, Winston! It's not safe anymore!






Saturday, November 20, 2021

Archibald Lox Volume Two: The Kidnapped Prince by Darren Shan

 







 Archibald Lox, better known as "Archie" to his readers, has faced quite a lot since that fateful school day, when he first followed a mysterious girl pursued by two killers into an unknown realm. Our unlikely hero has had the misfortune of being thrown into near fatal run-ins with nightmarish creatures, deadly assassins, and rivers of blood, while at the same time, relishing in the jaw-dropping wonders the Merge has to offer to a living boy like him. It's been quite a ride so far for our locksmith protagonist, but his role to play in plans way beyond his comprehension have just begun, and continue in Volume Two of the Archibald Lox chronicles, The Kidnapped Prince.

  Just as eager readers hope to experience while diving into any epic young adult story, Archibald Lox fails to disappoint. Whereas the first omnibus (the Missing Princess) introduces us to a wide variety of characters, and takes us on a tour of the fantastical and precarious corners of the Merge, Volume 2 digs its grip into its readers tightly as the other shoe begins to fall, preparing us for what is sure to be an epic conclusion. If Darren Shan's talents of successfully hooking a reader are showcased in Volume 1 (books 1, 2, and 3 of the series), Volume 2 (books 4, 5, and 6 of the series) is absolute proof of his ability to send said reader's world into a tailspin. Darren Shan's classic formula of capturing the attention of bibliophiles, young and advanced alike, has once again been proven to be a triumph in his latest young adult series, Archibald Lox. 

  I, a self-proclaimed Darren Shan fanatic, have been lured time after time again into his stories of magic, horror, and heartbreak, and through Archie and Inez's journey, I find myself comforted by being once again embraced in the welcome majesty of his weird and wonderful worlds.

  There is something for everyone in this latest release from the masterful mind of Darren Shan. Whether you're a returning Shanster, or a newcomer to the curiosities of the Cirque Du Freak, Demonata, and the Merge, the adventures of our heroic locksmith are guaranteed to take you on a ride you'll never want to disembark. 


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Archibald Lox and the Rubicon Dictate by Darren Shan





 "They say he fell in battle, but demons like him don't fall, just rest up in the shadows, then come back stronger than ever."


Tensions between the Merged and SubMerged realms are precarious at best, but there's no bad blood a little game of grop, or even the event of a lifetime can't help mend...right? With the Tourney matches in full swing, our main character saved from the unforgiving grip of merciless killers, and the plot to kidnap a young prince underway, one might believe that all is peaceful in the capital city of Niffelheim. 

But the wheels of perilous plans are constantly in motion in the Merge, and sinister forces beyond our heroes' control are growing stronger by the moment. 

With a heart-pounding cat-and-mouse chase that takes us on a quest to the Born's New York City, the Rubicon Dictate is an epic conclusion to Darren Shan's second Archibald Lox volume, that readers will be sure never to forget. 


I maintained throughout my reading experience of the Archibald Lox series that book two in volume one, the Empress of Suanpan (that I've yet to write a review for), was by far, my absolute favorite. The way Darren Shan transported us with his words to worlds unknown was just extraordinary. Pure magic. But even as he painted a verbal portrait that made it easy for readers to place themselves directly in the narrator's shoes, I found myself going the extra mile by closing my eyes and fully immersing myself in the wonders of the Merge. Although each and every one of Archie's adventures so far has been an absolute delight, the Empress of Suanpan alone had this particular effect on me. 

That was, until the Rubicon Dictate. A quarter of the book in, and the Empress of Suanpan was riding her unicycle the long way down to second place. 

Archibald Lox and the Rubicon Dictate has a different flavor than the other books in Archie's story, and it's a flavor I savored quite a bit. The twists and turns, political intrigue, and masterful moves and countermoves between the Merged and SubMerged kept me coming back for more, day after day after day, even well after the book was finished. I feel as if in some ways, the series is maturing as Archie himself is maturing. It's subtle, and the shift from childlike wonder to sobering adulthood is gradual, but it's beautiful, and it receives a commending Literary Connoisseur ovation from me. There was a point of no return in the Slides of Bon Repell (book 5) for our hero and his dutiful readers, and I think it's at that exact point where we've made the switch from a good series, to an unforgettable one. 

If the first six books of this mad roller coaster of magic and mischief are any indication of what Darren Shan has in store for the final three, I think we're in for quite the landing. Darren Shan truly manifests a perfect balance of the whimsy of fantasy and the grittiness of reality, and no other young adult book of his highlights that talent more than Archibald Lox and the Rubicon Dictate. 

As each new installment of Archibald Lox is released to be devoured by readers, a new mystical pedal of the Merge and all its curiosities unfurls. I for one, cannot wait to see what awaits us. 




Monday, August 2, 2021

Archibald Lox and the Slides of Bon Repell by Darren Shan





"There's always a next time, in grop, as in life. Never forget, second chances are what the Merge was made for."


The whispers travel like whistling winds from zone to zone. From SubMerged mouth to Merged ear and vice versa, everyone is talking about one thing, and one thing only. The sole affair in the Merge that can bring people of opposing sides of a war together. The Tourney.

Each standing realm is sending their star players to compete in this once in a lifetime game, which, under normal circumstances, would be the event of a millennia for our main characters to attend...if it weren't for an underlying mission that Archie and his friends are risking their safety and sanity to complete. Together, they must avoid suspicious eyes, journey into the forgotten territory of a foreign realm, and try and succeed to fly under the radar of anyone who's determined to ensure that they fail.

However, a competition that people have traveled all across the sphere to attend is likely to draw vengeful enemies as well as allies. Archie has narrowly escaped the treacherous clutches of death more times than he can count since he's ventured into the Merge, but when a SubMerged king sets his sights on him, this time may very well prove to be too much for our hero.


I have no shame in admitting that Archibald Lox and the Slides of Bon Repell, book five in Archie's story, is a slow-burner. Until about three quarters in, I considered this story of Darren Shan's to perhaps be a "bridge" book, a book that connects two more adventurous, more heart-pumping stories together with a bit of a breather in between. Which is quite how I view Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; not a favorite, just a bit of a break, an independent adventure if you will, before the story reaches an epic arc that quickly ascends into the series' climax. 

Little did I know that as I was leisurely observing matches of grop, gnawing on hotcats, and exploring the icy terrain of Niffelheim, Darren Shan was luring me into a false sense of security. Call the Slides of Bon Repell a "bridge" book if you must, but no ending to an Archibald Lox story has slapped me across the face like this one. Unfortunately, that's all I can reveal at this time without blatantly spoiling the entire ending for you, my dear unsuspecting reader. 

By about 63%, I could not put the book down--reading in such short bursts I'd pace around my kitchen, book in hand, chewing the inside of my bottom lip with nerves. I found myself in such a constant, frantic state of distress, I'd positively search my brain to think of someone, anyone, on my friend's list who's also read this series so that I'd have someone to talk to about it. 

As you all very well know by now, I am an avid Darren Shan fan. I spent many months of my teen years absolutely devouring his dark tales. Mentally envisioning his fantastical worlds, shivering at the thought of his nightmarish villains, and celebrating his heroes as said villains are destroyed and defeated. I've witnessed his characters blossom from terrified children, to unstoppable forces of nature, and I have found that familiar, "David and Goliath" comfort in Archie. There came an intense point for our main characters in the Slides of Bon Repell where I stopped dead in my tracks, looked up from my book, and thought to myself, "He's grown. He's actually grown. Our beloved scaredy cat is now a ferocious lion." It was the type of moment in a young adult book that makes a reader say, "If he can be brave, so can I."  I can't help but believe that this is a trait of an excellent storyteller. 

This series truly showcases Darren Shan's abilities as a writer. Like Archie, I find myself thinking less about the Born, and spend more of my time thinking about the Merge and what other layers of marvels and mystery are waiting to unfurl. 

The epic conclusion of this story cannot come soon enough. 



Sunday, June 27, 2021

Archibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt by Darren Shan


 





"But our story's forever evolving," Argate says. "We've started a new chapter, and unluckily for you, you're part of it." 

 

The day Archie first spotted the girl on the bridge, outrunning her pursuers and disappearing into thin air, life as he knew it had changed forever. 

The day he returned to the bridge to say goodbye--hell jackals defeated, a King saved, an Empress outsmarted, a vote of alignment decided--he thought his time in the "weird, welcome otherworld of the Merge" was over. 

But the Merge needs him back, and this time, Archie may never return to our sphere. The world of the living. The world of the Born. Archie's mind-bending adventures continue in book one, volume two of Archibald LoxArchibald Lox and the Forgotten Cryptand things are only getting more dark, more intense, and more dangerous from here. 

For loyal readers of Archibald Loxthe Forgotten Crypt is an unnerving welcome back to a world that we've come to love, and for new readers, it is a story that will grab you, hold you tight...

 

...and never let go.


I was approached by Darren Shan a few months ago to read and review the upcoming books in his new young adult series, and I fear that at the present moment, there are no words to properly express the level of excitement I was experiencing at the time. I'd reviewed Darren's work in the past when he was publishing books under his pseudonym Darren Dash, but to be asked for my honest input on his young adult works is an honor I never expected to be given. 

As someone who's been a fan of his stories for the better half of twenty-five years, I will say with full disclosure that Archibald Lox does not disappoint. As we, the avid readers of Darren Shan have matured over time, so has his writing. The whimsical, magical, "run off and join the circus" captivation and intrigue is still there, with its hold on you as powerful as ever, but Darren has moved on from the young adult world of vampires, spiders, and demons, and is now dabbling in the more sobering art of life, death, and life after death. Darren Shan masterfully crafts a story that opens a door (or borehole) into a universe previously unknown and undiscovered to us, and takes us on a journey through realms, war, politics, and the psychedelic wonders of the Merge. From whimsy to terror, from despair to peace, from a game of Grop to political intensity between realms, this could only be the signature work of a true master of horror. 

In Archibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt, Darren Shan does what he does best. He spins a chilling tale of wonder, enchantment, and intrigue, and leaves us bewildered and breathlessly reaching for the next book. 

While reuniting us with beloved characters, and setting us on a new, treacherous mission, Archibald Lox and the Forgotten Crypt is sure to ensnare, mesmerize, and astound readers of all ages.