Happy Saturday, all!
This weekend’s book review post is more of a ‘series’ review, really. I’ve recently finished ‘Arthur Quinn and Hell’s Keeper’, the final book in Alan Early’s ‘The Father of Lies Chronicles’, and it’ll be tough to do a review of it without touching on the two books which came before it. So, I’ll jumble them all in together here and hope for the best.
Very few things in life please me more than finishing a series. I love trilogies, and – unlike a lot of readers – I love waiting for the second and third instalments in a sequence of books. I’ve been following Arthur Quinn’s adventures for a while now – you may remember me mentioning him way back in January – and it was great to finally get my hands on the wrap-up to his story, and to finally find out the answers to some of the questions that have always hung over the character: why was it Arthur who was chosen to stand against the gods? What happened to his mother? And, most pertinently: is it even possible to slay a god?
The series began with Arthur and his dad Joe facing the prospect of moving away from their home in Kerry just after the death of Arthur’s beloved mother. Joe’s job is bringing him to Ireland’s capital, and Arthur isn’t best pleased at having to leave behind everything he has known and loved. This first book (‘Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent’) introduces us to the Jormungand, the terrifying snake which circles the earth in Norse legend; it has slept beneath Dublin for a millennium, and in the course of works needed to build a tunnel for Dublin’s new underground railway, the creature is awoken accidentally. It is up to Arthur, and some new-found friends, to stand against the creature. The Jormungand is, of course, one of the three children of Loki, the trickster-god of Norse mythology; as well as dealing with the serpent, then, Arthur also has to cope with its father, who wants to unleash Ragnarok, or utter destruction, upon the world. We see how skilfully the terrifying character of Loki weaves his way into Arthur’s life, manipulating him without Arthur even being aware he’s doing it. It takes all of Arthur’s strength, and the help of a band of long-dead (now reanimated) Viking warriors to see off the World Serpent… but, of course, Loki manages to escape their clutches, because that is what he does best.
The second book, ‘Arthur Quinn and the Fenris Wolf’, introduces us to Fenrir, the second of Loki’s terrible children. In mythology, Fenrir ate the sun at Ragnarok, plunging the earth into darkness and despair; in the book, he is a man who has been tasked with building an army of wolves, one which will help Loki bring about the end of the world. New characters are introduced in this book, including the Lavender siblings, Ellie and Ex, whose motivations are never quite clear; we also meet Ice, a puppy which Arthur’s friend Ash risks her life to save, and who turns out to be far more than appearances would allow. The book concludes with a fantastic showdown between Loki and the children, where help arrives from an unexpected place, and Arthur makes a huge personal sacrifice to save the world, once again, from Loki’s wrath.
Finally, then, we come to the final book in the trilogy. ‘Hell’s Keeper’ is the goddess Hel, who is – in mythology – a horrifying half-alive, half-dead creature, the guardian of a realm of the same name, where the dead live. In this book, the idea of ‘Hel’ is used to powerful effect, even if the goddess herself only makes a brief appearance. The book begins back in Kerry, where Arthur has not had long to recover from the exertions of his last adventure before a strange dream invades the sleep of everyone on earth, all at the same time (with exceptions made for time-zones, and so forth!) The dream shows a child being kidnapped, and Arthur and his friends know who the kidnapper is – Loki. They know he is planning something, but clues are scant as to what, exactly, he’s up to. Then, the trickster god appears, and tells Arthur a heart-shattering secret which asks as many questions as it answers; even more terrifyingly, he uses his power to destroy Arthur in front of his friends. Luckily, however, this is not the end: Arthur is transported to Asgard, and from there to an alternative version of Dublin, one in which he has never existed. In this ‘Dublin’, Loki is king, and Arthur not only has to face him, but also some familiar-looking enemies from his past.
I really enjoyed this series of books, for a lot of reasons. I love books set in Ireland, and/or written by Irish authors, for a start; I really enjoy reading stories which take place in settings I’m familiar with. I also love books which breathe new life into old stories, and which make myths and legends come alive in the minds of their readers. I am a big fan of children’s books which base themselves in the rich cultural legacy of their country of origin, and for that reason alone, I knew I’d love this series. In the final book, I particularly enjoyed the author’s imagining of an ‘alternative’ Dublin, and how an apocalyptic disaster might affect humanity – it was a dreadful picture, but there were some sparks of compassion and kindness there, too. I found myself delighted with the character of Arthur; his courage and self-sacrifice, as well as his love for his friends and family, were wonderful.
At times, however, the style of writing in ‘Hell’s Keeper’ was a little description-heavy and a lot of things were ‘told’ instead of ‘shown’; it’s hard not to do this, though, when you’re writing a book of this nature, which relies so much on ‘stories within stories’. I also felt that ‘Hell’s Keeper’ could have been a little more compactly edited – bits of it felt too long, to me, and I thought the other books had a better structure, and better pacing. Overall, though, this is a series I’d recommend for anyone 8+ who’s looking for a fresh voice in children’s fantasy fiction, and who wants to learn a bit about Dublin and the Vikings, to boot!