A Book Review: Archibald Lox & The Forgotten Crypt by Darren Shan

I recently had the good fortune of recieving an advanced copy of Young Adult author Darren Shan’s latest fantasy book to review. You can find my thoughts on it below…

Archibald Lox & The Forgotten Crypt is the fourth book in YA bestseller Darren Shan’s fantasy series about a talented young locksmith who travels between Earth and an alternate universe known as the Merge by unlocking magical portals called Boreholes. To get up to speed on the series so far, check out my review of Archibald Lox Volume One (books 1 – 3) here: https://gdbastow11.wordpress.com/2020/07/07/an-overview-archibald-lox-volume-1-by-darren-shan/

As well as being the fourth book in the over-all Archibald Lox series, Archibald Lox & the Forgotten Crypt also marks the beginning of Volume Two, the second trilogy of novels to chronicle the universe-jumping escapades of Archibald (Archie to his friends) and his eclectic entourage of fantastical companions.

The enthralling themes and narrative overtones of the first three stories continue in this latest instalment as the internationally acclaimed author expands the new world he has created to spellbinding effect. He explores the complexly volatile relationship between the Merge’s two main factions. 

The Merged (people who favour peace, decency and justice) and the SubMerged (those who would prefer to have violence, intolerance and brutality as the foundations of their society). He also delves further into the tempestuous divisions of the Merge’s extensive royal family whose loyalties are split on either side of the jagged line between these two ideologies. It is against this backdrop of maniacal monarchs and otherworldly antics that this next tale begins.

In the opening chapters of the book we catch-up with Archie when he is back in the Born (otherwise known as Earth ) trying to unlock a particularly tricky Borehole in the Seven Dials area of London’s theatre district. The lock is in the shape of a woman’s face and is proving to be an intriguing challenge for our ambitious protagonist. Archie’s locksmithing potential is now so apparent that he has been taken under the wing of Winston, one of the Merge’s most renowned locksmiths.

Winston is a tremendously wise and experienced character with a haunted past that his facial scars only hint at. The knowledgeable older locksmith resides inside Big Ben and within that iconic London landmark is where Archie goes to study his craft.

Shan delves into Winston and Archie’s teacher/apprentice relationship and illustrates the genuine rapport between the two. Despite Winston’s tough exterior, he is a man of great depth and moral conviction who is proud to pass on his skills to his promising student. In the course of Archie’s studies he discovers more about his mentor’s troubled history and the evil deeds of his former apprentice. Archie also learns about a Submerged royal named Old Man Reap who cast a long and tyrannical shadow over The Merge and its people.

Shan’s gift for character development really shines through in these early sections, the Limerick-based wordsmith is often lauded for his suspenseful twists and action-packed storylines. However, his deft skill with characterisation deserves an equal quantity of plaudits. No matter how inventive the tale or imaginative the creation, whether he is writing about ancient vampires, adolescent zombies or mystically enigmatic locksmiths, Shan imbues every character with an utterly real soul which readers of all ages can relate to.  

As the pages turn the author weaves together a multifaceted tapestry of plot, gradually illuminating vitally intriguing story elements that tantalise us with glimpses into the dark past and potential future.

Throughout this tapestry there also runs a constant thread of adventure that leads Archie to a Borehole which transports him to the cold, snowy surroundings of Moscow. Whilst in Russia’s capital city, Archie is reunited with some old friends from the Merge. Inez (who guided him on his unfamiliar inter-dimensional travels in the first three instalments) King Hugo (a motorcycle-riding Merged monarch with a cool head and a noble heart) and Princess Ghita (a Merged royal who had a small but significant part to play in Volume One) to name just three, Archibald and co soon find themselves embroiled in a top secret mission to secure the safety of an infant Merged Prince whose fate depends on them.

The sequences of the book that take us from Moscow to the various corners of the Merge crackle with high-stakes excitement. Here Darren Shan successfully channels his inner John Le Carré, seamlessly blending fantasy and espionage with magically thrilling results.

Believe it or not, fantastical undercover work, face-shaped locks and regal ructions are just the tip of the iceberg as Archibald Lox & the Forgotten Crypt contains more layers than a planet-sized onion. Shan reintroduces us to memorable characters like the jovial giant, Cal and the tiny tour de force Baba Jen, as well as taking us to many vividly unique places along the way.

Shan has taken to fantasy writing as naturally as a dragon to flight. He has built an ambitiously original fantasy world populated with fully rounded characters who take us on unforgettably compelling journeys. This series is a mystical epic for a new generation of readers.

Archibald Lox & The Forgotten Crypt will be released on 1st July 2021. You can order your copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B093H8DPQZ?geniuslink=true

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