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Something Like a Review – Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact by AJ Hartley

Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine PactI’ve become something of a sucker for young adult fiction, and I blame it all on JK Rowling and Harry Potter. She got me past my book snobbery (at least the part that sneered at picking up a “kid’s book”) and showed me that I don’t have to be the target audience to really enjoy the story. Granted, she was not my only insight into this phenomenon (The Lorax is still one of my favorite books, and I have a feeling it will always remain such), but she was the most recent memory which made a significant impression.

As much as I enjoy reading YA fiction, I feel something like a traitor or an imposter, or perhaps a bit of both when trying to talk about it. I read it like a fan, to indulge in the craftsmanship of the story, but I’m reading it with a jaded perspective and seeing things that the target audience may not gain perspective on for many years.  To investigate too deeply ruins the magic (making me an imposter), yet to point out things that irk me when lacking in an adult novel seems traitorous because I’m reading from a different perspective than the story was written for. The latter is part of the reason why I’m hesitant to write Something Like a Review for YA fiction. I will, however, make an exception for Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact by AJ Hartley.

This is a great story of a young English boy who finds himself uprooted and transplanted in Atlanta to live with his aunt. The circumstances of his removal are something I won’t reveal here, but they are discussed in the story after some speculation and foreshadowing. He finds himself in the surreal environment of a wealthy private school, and as we all know, those little over-privileged microcosms breed our future 1%-ers and the members of the upper 99%. Darwen is given a mirror by a strange shopkeeper, Mr. Peregrine, and discovers that it becomes a portal to another world, called Silbrica, after the sun goes down. He also discovers that his ability to cross from modern Atlanta into Silbrica is not a common one, that he is, in fact, a mirroculist. This ability and his quirky friends, Alexandra (Alex) and Richard (Rich), help our hero realize his potential as their world is threatened by a dangerous contingent from Silbrica. There are poignant moments, like Darwen’s fear for his Silbrican friend Moth, moments where I just had to laugh at what happened (I’ll just say the confirmation of the true nature of a teacher in the book will cause speculation and critical evaluation of school faculty for many a young avid reader), and many enthralling moments where I couldn’t seem to read fast enough to find out what happened next (meeting the Jenkinses and then Alex and Darwen’s final return to Moth’s forest).

What I enjoyed most about this story was also the most frustrating aspect of it – it ended too damn fast. That’s not to say that the story was cut short; it was not. It was a great adventure that reminded me of a cross between the heroism of Harry Potter and the magical, otherworldly adventures described in the Chronicles of Narnia, with a measure of a dangerous Alice in Wonderland for good measure. What I mean to say is that when the story ended, I wanted more. The story resolved, but it resolved with the acknowledgement that this was but one battle in what is likely to become a war against the dark factions from Silbrica. I want to see more of Darwen in action. I liked his development from a reserved child in denial to one who seemed to begin to accept and open up to his circumstances. I wanted to see him grow further. I liked Rich and wanted to see how he’d develop as a character. Personally, I think these are some of the highest compliments a reader can give an author – a blatant demand for MORE.

And then there’s Alexandra. From the beginning, I was not a fan, and it seemed as though that was at least somewhat intentional. She’s the over-the-top character that’s in your face and annoying as hell. (Think Kimmy from Full House, for those of you who grew up with the show. For those of you who didn’t…well, you missed the Olsen twins when they were actually worth talking about.) Alex does grow through the story and has redeeming moments where her hyperbole is resolved into unflinching moments of heroism, but she and I just didn’t get along well. I tolerated her, and when I saw what she was willing to do for a friend, I gained a little respect for her, but not more affection. I think she’s got potential, but I’ll withhold my judgement until the next book.

There will be a next book…right? There’d better be, because this saga is so not done and I’m so ready for the next installment.

All in all, as a jaded adult, I’d give it a solid 4 stars (and did, on Goodreads). A kid who’s focus is simply on getting lost in a great story will undoubtedly rate it higher. These, after all, are just the words of a grown up whose feet still splash in puddles on a rainy day. I can pretend to be a big kid, but that doesn’t make me one.

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