Arlo Finch #3
YA, Middle Grade, Fantasy
Roaring Brook Press; February 4, 2020
314 pages (ebook) 7 hr 20 min (audio)
3 / 5 ✪
Warning: Contains minor spoilers for the previous Arlo Finch books.
Arlo Finch is back—but something has changed.
Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows is the third book in John August’s series surrounding the young lad, Arlo, after his family move to the secluded town of Pine Mountain, Colorado. While the previous two entries in the series dealt with the exciting adventures of Arlo and his friends, the Kingdom of Shadows attempts to add more drama and suspense by throwing Arlo’s data-mining father into the mix, in an adventure that will change the fate of both the Long Woods and the Real World. But where the previous two books succeeded by trying to encapsulate children’s adventures while adding a bit of action and flair, the third book falls short by trying to do too much while ultimately delivering about the same sense of resolution. Ugghhh—I’ve tried to write this intro half a dozen times and it still sounds bad. Just… bear with me, yeah?
After an adventure at summer camp spanning thirty years, Arlo is back home in Pine Mountain, preparing to face a new school, new teachers and new challenges. In Rangers he is training hard, ready to leave Squirrel for a new rank—but has to compete with new additions to his troop, new techniques, and harder tasks than ever before.
But first, Arlo is going to undertake the most dangerous adventure he’s ever conceived. He’s going to rescue his father, bringing him home to Pine Mountain by traversing the Long Woods. But the Eldritch have plans for Arlo, and the way is already not without its dangers. Enemies—old and new—are all around him. Arlo must rely on his two best friends, his fellow Rangers in Blue Patrol, and his family to see him through it. And even with all of them on his side, it might not be enough.
Okay, so it’s a short blurb. The book actually contains two adventures: Arlo’s mission to rescue his father, and then whatever the Eldritch want. They’re loosely connected later in the text, but for all purposes, they’re really two separate tales. Coming into this I was expecting a rip-roaring gauntlet spanning from Colorado to China and back, with the Eldritch, the government, enemies new and old alike taking shots at Arlo in-between. What I got instead was one adventure, then a break, another adventure, and then a loose connection that sets up a conclusion somehow neither here nor there.
In terms of an adventure, Kingdom of Shadows is a typical Finch special. That is it blends enough action, drama and fun in a bag to create an enjoyable, entertaining, PG adventure. I had no more trouble getting into and through it than usual, which is very little. I had issues with pieces along the way, which I’ll get into in a minute. But the adventure itself, the setting are just as good as usual, the story no harder to read.
I had more issues with the book itself than usual, while taking into account that it is a middle grade story, after all. The first has to do with the story itself. But I’ve already discussed this a little. It’s mostly the pacing that I object to, and the plot. The starting one adventure, then another, only to blend them later on but somehow conclude neither adequately. The pacing gets going early only to slow and never build itself back up to the level it leads with—even during the exciting boss-fight toward the end.
My main issue with the book is Arlo’s father. Clark Finch is a hacker of some sort—never described fully as Arlo himself doesn’t understand it. In fact, Arlo doesn’t understand computers or technology much at all. Instead, he regards it as akin to magic. This is incredibly convenient in the story as there’re parts where Clark will whip out some device, give some generic techno-babble and then magic up a solution to whatever problem they face. As a reason for his exile, it’s a good, modern idea. As a plot point, it’s incredibly lazy—like having the main character carry around a bottomless sack full of whatever it is he might need. Other than this hacker persona, Clark really doesn’t seem to have much of a personality at all. He’s just… there.
Which brings me to my next point. Arlo, by this point, is in seventh grade—making him somewhere around 12-13. But he’s as much of a child as he used to be. The book clearly disagrees with this assessment, going out of its way to compare how he approaches problems now, versus how he would’ve in his year before Rangers. But this mostly regards things that he’s learnt, not any maturing on his part. And yeah, I understand that my maturity level didn’t improve between the ages of 10-14. It CHANGED, but didn’t exactly improve. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that there should be some kind of character development at this point. But there isn’t. Arlo still goes through the same, simple, straightforward steps when he gets in trouble. While his skills have improved, the process itself hasn’t. And by this age, I would’ve liked to see some evidence of development, even if it’s just regression.
While it still tells a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows pales in comparison to its predecessors, promising a greater sense of drama and suspense and illusion, but delivering on little of it. The sense of fulfillment is equal to past books; no more, nor less. While the story regarding the Eldritch and the Long Woods is a good one, and the adventure to and from China entertaining—the two don’t blend well together, fighting one another for control of the book. Each would’ve made a good read on its own, but together they fell short of a complete story, failing to deliver a satisfactory resolution. Despite the fact that Arlo is now in 7th grade, little has changed from when he first arrived in Pine Mountain. He’s older—technically—and has different skills, though it’s difficult to see any character development. I know this is a Middle Grade book, but I would’ve liked to see SOMETHING. Though it falls short of perfection, short of its predecessors, and feels somewhat lacking upon completion, Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows is a worthwhile read for fans of the series. Hopefully from here it will just go upwards, but only time will tell.