The DWJ Project: Archer’s Goon
We’re nearing the end of this project, and I’ve saved most of my second-tier favorites for next-to-last. These are the books I like quite a lot, but for whatever unknown reason didn’t imprint on like I did my first-tier favorites.
The title of Archer’s Goon refers to the Goon-like individual who shows up in the kitchen of the Sykes family, claiming that the father is overdue with his “two thousand.” This turns out not to refer to money, but to words: Quentin, a writer, has for years now been writing and mailing off two thousand words of whatever crap comes into his head, four times a year. The most recent batch has gone astray. But it gets more complicated than that, because Archer is one of seven not-quite-human siblings who appear to rule the Sykes’ hometown from behind the scenes, each one “farming” various aspects of society. Pretty soon they’re all sticking their oars in, which makes life very difficult for the Sykes family, and it’s up to Quentin’s son Howard to sort it out.
One of the great appeals of this book is its quirky family dynamic. Howard’s younger sister Awful is fabulous, and so are the occasions when her parents or brother use her as a weapon against outsiders. Quentin is sometimes deserving of a smack, but there’s a point during the war with Archer and his siblings when you really understand the impulse to grin, dig your heels in, and see what they’ll do next. Catriona, though less than tolerant of the crap produced by her husband’s intransigence, has good reasons for objecting. And Howard himself protags very satisfyingly, following up on questions and looking for a way out. Together they’re actually quite strong, which contrasts nicely with Archer’s family: individually any one of them can outdo an ordinary person without trying, but their refusal to cooperate with each other undermines them.
Also, I love the Goon.
I’m often puzzled by people who claim they don’t see any point in re-reading books. This is a noticably different story once you know the Goon is Erskine; his interactions with Howard, and his avoidance of his siblings, all take on a very different light in retrospect, and unless you have a perfect memory, you probably aren’t going to recall all the little grace notes laid in along the way. It’s fun to revisit them, once you know the secret.
I also like that he is not quite an unalloyed Good Guy. He’s manipulating the Sykes, too, albeit for better reasons than world domination, and imprisoning Howard and the others isn’t what you would call nice. Torquil likewise starts out unsavory, but (thankfully) DWJ isn’t the sort of writer who divides her characters into two neat camps; it’s possible to bring him around. Even Archer isn’t quite a straight-up villain; he genuinely thinks him running the world would be a good thing. He’s just, y’know, wrong.
While I’m okay with him and Dillian and Shine being shipped off to Alpha Centauri, though, I have to admit I’m not pleased about what happened with Fifi. Yes, she’s in love with Archer. But nobody thinks to ask whether that’s a snow job he did on her, like Shine did with Ginger Hind. I guess we’re supposed to take as evidence that he didn’t the fact that Archer is equally besotted with her? It doesn’t much reassure me, though, since it’s entirely plausible that Archer got infatuated, and decided to make sure his affections would be returned. And even if their love-at-first-sight is genuine, nobody bothers to inquire whether Fifi is okay with blasting off into space with him. Unlike the others, she hasn’t done anything to deserve it. I find myself feeling less than satisfied with that bit.
But I love, love, love the Goon, and the way he interacts with Awful especially — he has this lovely knack of defusing her, in ways that I think Awful really, really needs. I like the way the dynamic between Venturus and his siblings gets reflected in the dynamic between Howard and Awful; it isn’t anything as simple as a one-to-one matching, but various bits of how they interact show up here and there, helping Howard see that growing up as a human twice — once without a sister, once with — have made him a better person than he originally was.
I find myself deeply curious what backstory, if any, Jones had in mind for where the seven of them came from in the first place. We only get the barest hints of clues: Awful calls Dillian an “enchantress,” and Quentin calls all of them “wizards;” Archer says they’re not the same as humans, and live a good deal longer; they refer in passing to their parents. Because this is the British Isles, my first thought was that you could fic them as the children of Merlin and Nimue or whoever, but then their large stature makes me think of nephilim. I will entertain other suggestions in the comments. 🙂
I’ve already finished reading Power of Three; just need to post about it. Six entries left, and five books . . . .