Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret was written by D.D. Everest and first published in 2015. It is a fantasy story for middle grade readers, focusing on a young boy who discovers that he belongs to a family of magical book wardens. The novel forms the first part of a planned trilogy and is followed by Archie Greene and the Alchemist’s Curse (2016). The final part of the series – Archie Greene and the Raven’s Spell – is due for release later this year.
Since the tragic deaths of his parents and sister, Archie Greene has grown up living with his Grandmother and led a wholly unremarkable life. However, all this changes on his twelfth birthday when a stranger appears with an unusual gift for him. The man comes from London’s most secret law firm and has come to deliver a sealed book and a message. The weird thing is, the book has been with them awaiting for delivery for over four hundred years.
The message instructs Archie to deliver the book to the Aisle of White, a book shop in Oxford. It is here that he learns the truth about his family. Archie is a descendant of one of the men who protected the Library of Alexandria – the place were all magic books were kept until it was destroyed by fire. When the Flame of Alexandria recognises his potential, he is apprenticed to Old Zeb – a master book binder – and begins working for the Museum of Magical Miscellany (or Mothballs as it is known to the other apprentices).
Yet Archie soon learns about the dangers of the magical world. Mothballs is home to four of the Terrible Tomes – magical books that could bring about the end of everything. On Archie’s first day, another apprentice is targeted by Greaders – people who are desperate to get their hands on the Tomes’s power. Realising that they could have mistaken the boy for him, Archie begins to grow suspicious about the book that he delivered. Could it be that it’s what the Greaders are searching for?
First, let’s address the obvious. It’s clear from the title and cover of this book that it’s designed to attract fans of the ever-popular Harry Potter series. Although I wouldn’t call Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret a rip-off, it’s impossible to deny that there are certainly some similarities between the two titles. Both concern a twelve-year-old boy who discovers that he has ties to the magical world and goes off to study at a special academy. Yet this is where the similarities end. Archie Greene contains some wonderfully original concepts. It’s unfortunate that this book’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t really develop them.
The world building is the most interesting part of this book. It’s set in a world where people aren’t magical in the traditional sense, but some have the skills necessary to handle and preserve magical texts. Mothballs is the base in which most of these people operate and is hidden beneath the Bodelian Library, accessed by drinking magic potions supplied in a nearby café. This is actually a really neat idea. It shows a lot of promise and the chapters in which detail Archie’s first day are probably the best in the novel.
Trouble was, the book moved at a mile a minute. No time was spent allowing the reader to appreciate this world building. Names and concepts were flung at the reader as Archie was given a whistle-stop tour of the world. For example, there are three different skills taught a Mothballs – Book Finding, Book Minding and Book Binding. As Archie is apprenticed to a Book Binder, we do get a very brief look at what this entails, but we see nothing of the other two skill schools. We also learn that there are three schools of magic (natural, man-made and supernatural) but we don’t learn much about any of these.
The plot of the novel also feels rather flimsy in places. While it’s exposited early on that there could be a traitor working within the museum, there aren’t really any clues to allow the reader to deduce who this it. While Archie is suspicious of a couple of people earlier in the tale (with no real reason for being so), we never learn their motivation or if they had any ties to Archie’s father. Most of the explanation we do get boils down to destiny. While Archie’s destiny is never fully revealed, it is implied that he has magical potential and could very well be instrumental in the dawn of a new Age of Magic. Presumably, this will become the focus more in subsequent books.
As you may be able to tell, Archie is not my favourite middle grade protagonist. He’s pretty typical of the genre, being portrayed as brave, quick to trust, destined for greatness, and more than a little clueless. While this made him rather forgettable, I think his cluelessness really should be emphasised. Archie was great at making stupid mistakes. He’s told that Terrible Tomes can masquerade as harmless books in one chapter, and in the next he grows suspicious of Old Zeb purely because a magical book tells him that Old Zeb is untrustworthy. And he never learns from this mistake as he always trusts whatever the books tell him. Really Archie, were you listening at all?
Despite having a massive supporting cast, the novel mainly just focuses on Archie. This is a bit of a shame as some of the other characters were a lot more colourful and interesting than he was. Archie’s motherly aunt Loretta, Pink the tattooed café owner, and wise Old Zeb were amongst the characters that I would have liked to have seen more of, yet none of them had a role to play in the greater scheme of things.
Most disappointing of all was the treatment of Archie’s cousins – Bramble and Thistle. I thought at first that these two would become the Hermione and Ron of the book, yet as the novel progressed they appeared less and less. As Thistle wasn’t old enough to work at Mothballs, he barely appeared in the novel at all. Bramble tagged along on a couple of Archie’s adventures, but didn’t really contribute anything. Despite being a second-year student, she didn’t seem any more competent than Archie and thus didn’t really help him get out of any sticky situations.
Well, this review is a little short but I don’t really have anything else to add. Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret showed a lot of promise, presenting some very original concepts and a whimsical setting, however was ultimately unengaging. The plot and characters are both weak, and too much is just explained away by being Archie’s destiny. However, I am curious to see if the series will improve in the next novel and so will certainly be taking a look at it in a future review.
Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk