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New Book Review: Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact

New this month in the world of YA fantasy is Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact, by A. J. Hartley.  Hartley has written several adult novels, but this is his first venture into the world of YA lit and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Darwen is an eleven-year-old boy who has just moved from northern England to live with his aunt in Atlanta, GA.  The beginning of the book paints the picture of a lonely boy whose parents are gone, with an aunt who is too busy to learn how to brew a proper cup of tea and a babysitter who does nothing but watch television and talk on her phone.  Then, on a trip to the mall, he sees a strange little creature flying above the crowds and follows it to Mr Peregrine’s Reflectory Emporium:  Mirrors Priceless and Perilous.  Inside, the shop is a dusty, jumbled maze of antique mirrors.  The proprietor, Mr. Peregrine, recognizes Darwen as a very special young man and gives him a mirror to take home.  When he gets home, he finds that the mirror becomes a portal to a beautiful new world after dark.

At first things are fine, the secret world in his mirror looks like a good way to escape the less than pleasant private school that Darwen has just started, but on his second trip things get more dangerous and frightening.  Darwen goes back to the mall to ask Mr. Peregrine what is going on.  I would not have been surprised to find that the mirror shop had disappeared after Darwen left the first time, if had a definite “roving magical junk shop” vibe to it, but it was still there.  Mr. Peregrine is amazed that Darwen was able to see the other world, apparently it is a skill that very few possess, and gets very excited about sending him back through to investigate some strange occurrences.  With this, Darwen and his two new friends embark on an adventure to defeat the bad guy and save the worlds.

I won’t say this is the most original story I’ve ever read.  The first scene in the mirror shop is very reminiscent of the same scene in The Neverending Story and some of the characters are a bit clichéd.  His aunt in particular starts out feeling like a cardboard cutout of Stereotypical Busy Businesswoman.  Thankfully, by the end she turns into more of a real person.  It may have been intentional – an illustration of how Darwen matures during his adventure.  As he learns to open up to himself he can see others more clearly.  Unfortunately it reads more like Hartley didn’t need her to be a real character till the end of the book, so he didn’t put much work into her until then.

Where Hartley truly sets himself apart from other alternate world adventures is with his monsters.  He has created a wide range of nasties, including giant carnivorous insects who can disguise themselves as human, steampunk orcs and grotesques who would find themselves at home in a Bosch painting.  The headless Gnashers, who have large mouths full of shark teeth in their torsos, are particularly creepy.  I also like Darwen; he is very believable.  He starts out excited about this new adventure, looking for a way to escape from the suckhole that his life has become.  When things get really tough, he gets overwhelmed and actually gives in to his despair.  Luckily he has a friend who is willing to kick him back into gear with one of my favorite lines in the book, “Save the pity party for later.  You’re not only coming [to the battle], you’re going to lead.”

I was a little skeptical during the first few chapters, but despite some moments that can only be described as perfunctory and awkward, by page 50 I was hooked.  I ended up reading the whole thing in a day.  Since then I’ve been recommending Darwen to everyone I know who likes YA fiction.  And now I’m recommending it to you :) .

*Image courtesy of Amazon

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at www.etsy.com/shop/AngryOwlStudio if you're interested in checking it out.

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