Darwen Arkwright and The Peregrine Pact

Darwen Arkwright and The Peregrine Pact

A novel by A.J. Hartley, illustrations by Emily Osborne


It can be a mistake to read book reviews, or even those plot outlines on the flyleaf or the websites of booksellers.  Sure, we like to have some means to sort through all the choices we have, but our wetware is going to make assumptions.  In the case of Darwen, we have an English orphan whose parents died rather violently in a car crash.  He has come to America to live with his mother’s sister.  If you can honestly tell me that Harry Potter didn’t at least flit through your consciousness, then you must have been living as a hermit for the past decade!  Now we toss in a world on the other side of some very special mirrors, and a rather unique gift accorded to young Darwen to not only see the world on the other side of those mirrors, but to enter it, and I would immediately think of the other young person who found another world in similar fashion.  I quickly overcame these immediate assumptions in the first few pages as Darwen quickly became his own character thanks to the fast paced storytelling style. There is no way by which assumptions can be kept when the reader wants to know what that thing is, or what is going to happen next as the story unfolds.

The reader comes to know Darwen indirectly through his experiences as a stranger in a strange land. He may have been ordinary in the North of England, but to his schoolmates his accent doesn’t sound like anybody in Mary Poppins, and he is a complete dunce at American football.  He has his small victories when they play soccer in PE class, but he also becomes the target of some people who want to help him “fit in” by removing his accent and others who isolate him through mean spirited bullying.  It is all a bit overwhelming for Darwen, but when he discovers the mirror and the enticing forest he sees in it, he retreats into the comfort of an ideal place, or so it seems.  He learns very quickly that the mirror world is hardly idyllic, and the story takes on a frightening mystery.  What are these creatures, and what do they want?

Now to my personal response, that of a newly-minted senior citizen and lifelong Nerd.  I enjoyed this book, and I found many aspects of it that resonated with what I can still remember of my childhood efforts to find my place, make friends, understand adults and make retreats into books.  Hey, I would have liked Darwen just because he too liked Treasure Island.  I found myself wanting to analyze the story to find some deeper meaning, but in the end, I just wanted to know what further adventures might be in store for Darwen, what mysteries or dangers may still reside in the world of Silbrica.  Sometimes a good story just needs to stand on its own, and this one does so very handsomely.

Emily Osborne has done some clever art for the cover and as occasional chapter headings that suits the style of the story.  I think some much younger readers might enjoy this book, but it is clearly a Middle Grade to Young Adult level read.  Parents be warned: the monsters are scary, sometimes very scary.

(Just for fun, check out the beautiful webpage for Darwen at http://darwenarkwright.com/)

David Walthour is a retired Protestant Minister who has served parishes in Pennsylvania for more than 40 years.  He is an omnivorous grazer in libraries and likes nothing more than to find a good story in print or in one of those “living human documents,” as Anton Boisen described us.