October 20, 2022


Archibald Finch and the Lost Witches, Journey 2: Archibald Finch and the Curse of the Phoenix. By Michel Guyon. Illustrated by Zina Kostich. Andrews McMeel. $24.99.

     The wonders and frustrations of Michel Guyon’s Archibald and the Lost Witches series reappear full force in the second volume of the sequence. It is absolutely obligatory that readers of Archibald Finch and the Curse of the Phoenix already know what happened in Journey 1, because so many painstakingly built-up matters are tossed aside lightly within the first few pages of the second book. Those include issues such as the parallel adventures of Archibald and Faerydae in Lemurea, and of Archibald’s sister, Hailee, and her newfound-in-the-first-book friend, Oliver, in modern London; the death-but-not-really of Archibald’s grandmother, her lofty position within Lemurea, and her uncertain motivations; the evil deeds of Jacob Heinrich, a depraved sort-of-priest resembling the author of an anti-witch screed that dates to Leonardo da Vinci’s time – in fact, Heinrich dates to Leonardo’s time, and Leonardo’s role in matters of Lemurea is crucial; and much more. The characterizations and relationships of this motley crew are taken for granted in the second book, and anyone wishing to know just how their various arrangements came to be must consult the first.

     It may not help all that much, though. Archibald’s personality, which kept metamorphosing in not-very-satisfactory ways in the first book, has settled in the second into fairly straightforward preteen-hero mode. Oliver’s streetwise and rambunctious persona from the first book has turned into a rather irritating, naysaying attitude in this second volume, for reasons that are never apparent – it is as if Guyon is not quite sure who or what he wants his characters to be, so he has them trying on various elements of personalities and relationships according to the exigencies of particular scenes, the result being that the roles of the characters are clear, but their personal attributes flicker in and out like the ghosts of Faerydae’s three long-dead sisters.

     Oh – those sisters’ ghosts are on modern Earth, not in Lemurea. It is a trope of other-world fantasy for preteens and younger readers that when someone from today’s Earth visits a magical, different place on some other plane of existence, it is incumbent on one of the beings from that other place to then visit Earth. So Guyon, who apparently never met a cliché of the preteen-fantasy genre that he did not like, focuses Journey 2 on today’s Earth after focusing Journey 1 on Lemurea. But Guyon almost gets away with this sort of expected approach – as he almost gets away with a great deal of his sometimes-creaky plotting – simply because he writes so well and entertainingly, and gives his shapeshifting (or rather personality-shifting) characters enough interesting quirks to keep readers turning the book’s pages. Furthermore, although only one preteen from Earth finds the way to Lemurea in Journey 1, there are two beings from Lemurea on Earth in Journey 2. Unfortunately for the heroic foursome of protagonists, but very fortunately indeed for the plot of Journey 2, the second being visiting Earth – in addition to Faerydae – is a Marodor, one of the strange composite creatures of Lemurea with which the witches who live there (having been brought to that place to protect them against the depredations of anti-witch evildoers on Earth) are constantly at war. The forms of that war were one of the attractions of Journey 1, and the underlying question of just what the Marodors are and what they want (if they want anything intelligible) was a satisfying mystery in the first book.

     Not so in Journey 2. Here the primary point early in the book involves Faerydae’s attempts to adjust to life on Earth 500 years after her own time – a situation that is neither as dramatic nor as humorous as it could be, although it does contain some drama and amusement. Archibald needs her help to hunt the Marodor that he inadvertently brought to Earth when he returned to his home and time from Lemurea. Luckily, Earth is populated entirely by adults who are, not to put too fine a point on it, idiots. Feckless grown-ups are a standard element of preteen fiction, but here as in so many other ways, Guyon strains the formula by pushing things to the nth degree. The Marodor is able to do all sorts of destructive things, for example, because all the adults in and around London think it is not a monster but some sort of prank. Also, Archibald’s and Hailee’s parents are even too absurd to be funny: no matter what lie the protagonists tell them, and no matter how badly they tell it, the parents believe whatever it is, thus clearing the way for the young people to have their adventures. For instance, Faerydae and Oliver are introduced to the parents as refugees from an orphanage sponsored by the not-dead grandmother – they have escaped and found their way to Archibald’s and Hailee’s house because the grandmother told them how to get there, and there is no reason to check up on any of this because the house (now belonging to Archibald’s and Hailee’s family) is undergoing reconstruction by a couple of contractors who would be almost sinister if they weren’t so unceasingly ridiculous.

     The more enjoyable elements of Journey 2 are the ones in which Faerydae encounters apparently magical elements of modern Earth – everything from cars and airplanes to modern shopping emporiums – and those in which she calls on residual magic that, it turns out, remains in certain parts of modern Earth even though today’s science-based world is unaware of it and unable to use it. Eventually, inevitably, Journey 2 makes a journey back to Lemurea, where some of the issues raised in Journey 1 reappear and some new ones are discovered – resulting, as the book ends, in preparation for an apocalyptic battle that never happens in Journey 2 because Guyon likes to leave readers extremely frustrated by breaking off these books just when things get really interesting. So just as Journey 1 ended with a cliffhanger that was exceedingly disappointing for readers looking for a satisfactory conclusion to the book plus a lead-in to its sequel, so Journey 2 concludes just as big things are very close to happening. But they don’t. Guyon is obviously holding them for the next novel. Archibald Finch and the Lost Witches is clearly the sort of series that is best read after the whole sequence is available – but, alas, that is not yet the case. So readers who find Guyon’s cleverness and frequently intriguing concepts engaging really have no choice but to start with Journey 1, which lays all the groundwork, then continue to Journey 2, and then howl in frustration or otherwise express their displeasure until the time shall come for the next journey on this well-traveled but often very scenic road.

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