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 . . . .

0 Responses to “The DWJ Project: Archer’s Goon”

  1. lanerobins

    Oh this one is in my top five of hers. I love it so much! But you’re right about Fifi. I never thought of the possibility that she was snowed magically by Archer, but I did wonder why her character went from someone who felt real to a character defined by a mad crush.

    But Awful was wonderful. 🙂 How many times do you get to say that!

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, Fifi is the weakest part of the book. She really does stop being a three-dimensional character pretty soon after she meets Archer. (Which is a pity, because I liked her.)

  2. carbonel

    I think it was Scott Imes who compared them to the family in Zelazny’s Amber books. Which doesn’t quite work for me, but was interesting to think about.

  3. chomiji

    Yes, poor Fifi! (And poor Goon, for that matter: “Archer gets everything.”)

    In some ways, to me, this feels the most purely DWJ-ish book of all. Her imagination, humor, and love of language are running completely free. The way Howard and his family start to realize how the magic of Archer and his siblings is permeating everyday life is both beautiful and frightening. The scene that really brought all this home to me was the close escape from Erskine’s prison and how Howard and Awful were able to call on the power of the other siblings.

    When faced with recalcitrant public transit, I sometimes find myself thinking Hathaway, send a bus! Hathaway, send a bus!

    I’m very fond of Catriona, who is one of the most positively portrayed DWJ parents, and also of Torquil. I love the scene where Awful sees Torquil’s wardrobe of costumes and comments admiringly “You’re far too wicked to live in a church!”

  4. fjm

    This is my overwhelming favourite of all the books: I love the screwball structure, I love the first sign of The Tough Guide to Fantasy (Howard looks at the map the children have made and if we understand our fantasy we know where the truth will be found); I love the scenes with Hathaway and that Nan is *not* Anne Hathaway, I adore the post-modern irritant of every day Plagues that are sent down on the family. I love the Words are Powerful meme and the way she exploits it.

    When I decided to buy all of them in first edition, this was the one I had to pause over: £300. I still think it was worth every penny.

    • Marie Brennan

      I enjoy it loads; it just didn’t carve itself into my subconscious the way (for example) The Homeward Bounders did. Not sure why; I’m sure I read it around the same age.

      The whole “words are powerful” thing is, I suspect, the bedrock of why I love her work as a whole.

  5. la_marquise_de_

    I have the same reservations about Fifi. This is one of those DWJ books where, despite Awful (who doesn’t quite work for me, in the same way Dido Twite and Lyra don’t — too harsh), it seems to me that she sells her female characters short for the sake of the plot. I do love the Goon, though, and the frame and the plagues and the writing.

    • Marie Brennan

      I don’t feel the same about the female characters en masse — but then again, that may be because Awful does work for me.

      Fifi, however, yeah.

  6. chomiji

    Well, I have also chanted it aloud, particularly when my then-adolescent daughter was there to protest “Mom!”‘

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