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Something Like a Review : Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck by AJ Hartley

January 17, 2016 Leave a comment

What feels like a million years ago, I read Darwen Arwright and the Peregrine Pact by AJ Hartley. I’d attended ConCarolinas, heard him speak about it and was intrigued by the premise, and charmed by what sounded a little bit like a Harry Potter-ish type story. After reading it, I made an exception of sorts and wrote Something Like a Review about it. I’ll wait while you click that link and go read what I had to say.

Impatient? Ok, fine. The “tl;dr” was that I enjoyed it enough to eagerly anticipate the next installment on the story. The caveats were few and trivial enough that I attributed them to being a grown-up reading YA fiction. I’ve had this book in my TBR pile for a LONG time, and thought that reading this would be a great way to kick off my 2016 Recover from College initiative. I expected it to be light and fluffy reading.

Well, in some regards, it is, but in others, it’s really NOT. Let me explain…Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck

When I read the first book in the Peregrine Pact series, I got exactly what I expected: a fun, spunky adventure with mishaps and hijinx and a premise that still makes me wish I’d thought of it. Mirroculism. How cool is that phrase, to begin with? And the ability to jump into another world through mirrors or other reflective surfaces? I don’t really have words for the reaction, just strange gestures and facial expressions. (Damnit, damnit, damnit. Why didn’t I come up with that?) Reading this new installment met my expectations in that I was reunited with three quirky characters, that I saw them develop over a new story arc (and yes, that means gaining a new affection for Alex), and I got a worthy story. What surprised me was the depth of development in these characters, in the writing, and in the handling of a dangerous adventure.

Mr. Peregrine returns, but as a teacher at Hillside, with an unusual plan. His methodology for teaching includes taking the students out of Atlanta…and all the way to Costa Rica. And, if carting a bunch of sixth-graders into the jungle (rainforest) wasn’t terrifying enough, the perilous mission before the Peregrine Pact and the dangers that await them in the dense flora should do the trick.

I pulled out the first book and skimmed through it again to see what was different between them, and to try to figure out why the two books were so different. They both had difficult and dangerous adventures, though the perils of Darwen’s Costa Rican adventures were much more extreme than the first novel. Yes, there was additional character development so I was more attached to them. The obvious answers were easy to list: there were conflicts between the characters where the stakes were higher, there were moral dilemmas even an adult would have struggled with, and taking the characters out of their “normal” lives and putting them in the unsafe and unfamiliar will bring out new qualities. These were all good explanations, but they weren’t… “it.” I thought about it for a few days, and I think the difference lies in the writing style and approach to the story. Both stories were well written, and there’s no dramatic change in authorial voice, however, the Insidious Bleck felt as though it was consciously written to kids and committed to treating them like adults. The story telling was not pedantic or didactic, but posed the same kinds of concerns you’d find in “adult” fiction without flinching, without pandering, and without coddling. In my opinion, there’s more “meat” here for a kid to think about, to have a visceral reaction to, but to do so in a way that respects their childhood at the same time.

To clarify, while there are some similarities to the Harry Potter series, Darwen and the Peregrine Pact aren’t those characters. They are their own people (in so much as they can be in a fictional work), and they have their own personalities, stories and experiences. Hartley’s series would likely be embraced by Potter fans, but will stand on its own merits even without the association and/or comparison. Kudos to AJ Hartley for stepping up his YA game and generally elevating the middle grades YA game.

Medium: Dead-tree version purchased from and autographed by the author at ConCarolinas.

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Yes, even if just to introduce my kinda-nephew to the series.

Dead-tree worthy?: I haven’t decided. In this case, with an author-graph, I’ll be keeping it. Until, that is, the time comes to pass the gauntlet to the next generation. Right now, though, he’s a three-nager, and still a little young for chapter books. I’ll be purchasing the third in the series as a Kindle book, simply because I might die if my TBR/bookcase ever toppled over on me.

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