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.