Hey, if you read my original review of Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows way back in 2020—well, welcome to Round #2! At the time I remember saying that while the book wasn’t great, I’d address its problems later, depending on what was done to resolve them in the following entry.
Well, it’s been over a year and a half since the latest Arlo Finch book came out, and it appears that no fourth book is following. Needless to say that I’m disappointed. So it’s time to revisit this series and wrap up our thoughts on it, while saying a few choice words about just how it ended.
There are some spoilers following, so if you’d like to avoid those, just skip to the TL;DR.
Now, I’m not going to get into the original meat of it, so if you need a refresher, you can find it in the original review HERE (I’ll tack on this update to the end, so if you just wanted to read the whole thing there that’s totally an option) (alternatively, if you want to just skip to the TL;DR because this is Middle Grade or it doesn’t concern you, well yeah, you could do that too, I guess).
While originally planned and purchased as a trilogy, the Arlo Finch series had the potential to provide so much more mystery and adventure than three books could give them. As such, while the first and second titles in the series were highly entertaining, the third book—Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows—fell flat. Partly because it came at a crossroads for the series and in Arlo’s character arc; partly because it wrapped up the series; partly since the book tried to wrap up so many threads, while ultimately accomplishing very little. The problems I had in my original review notwithstanding, the Kingdom of Shadows was a conclusion wrought with issues—from what it set out to accomplish in the first place, to what story it managed to tell at the end.
Let me just say that while I didn’t see this coming, I really should have. But I didn’t know going into it that the Kingdom of Shadows was planned as the last book in a trilogy. And so the ending (when it just up and ended) made very little sense to me. Looking back on it, and knowing that it was the planned conclusion… it makes even less sense.
The conclusion itself is open-ended, with the final scene acting as both a finale and a beginning of sorts. As the precursor to a new book, this would’ve proved effective. As a final well, finale, it does the opposite. Instead of a cliffhanger ending to be resolved in the next installment, the Kingdom of Shadows uses a Sopranos-style moment—had the show ended a half-hour sooner. Or for the people that don’t know what this means: it ended in the middle of a scene, with quite little (to nothing) being actually resolved. Yes, the antagonist from the second book has been defeated. Yes, Arlo’s dad is home. Yes… actually no, that’s pretty much it.
So, basically, we’re just expected to believe that these two things will fix all the world’s problems. Arlo’s dad is just not in trouble anymore—because that makes perfect sense. The Eldrich just magicked all those problems away for… what reason, exactly? Even if it had made any sense for them to have that power, their rationale to do so didn’t make any more sense. Even less, actually. And with the tag-line of the book coming down to:
Arlo must make an impossible choice: save his friends and family, or save the Long Woods.
I mean, he doesn’t even manage either of these things. The Long Woods is still doomed. He didn’t save his friends or family in any reasonable way—the book was just like “well, it’s about that time, so I guessed our hero must’ve saved the day” and wrapt up without anything really being finished. This book makes about as much sense as my last three November novels have, and I ended each one with: “and then they all died”, regardless of what was happening. Don’t even get me started on the dragon.
The dragon that doesn’t really do anything, but then gets freed at the end and… the world is totally fixed. Because. Because magic fixes all problems, so we don’t even have to get into all the how’s and why’s or explain anything in detail. It just works. Because magic.
Have you ever sat down with your kid and told them “I know that you tried your best and didn’t succeed but magic magic magic you win and everything is perfect!”
…did that work? Honestly asking.
Not only am I disappointed by the lack of coherence, but as I reread it now, I notice more and more how rushed this conclusion feels. Not only the conclusion—the entire book. The premise itself doesn’t even really work. The enemy we just defeated in the previous book magically escapes and undoes everything in the blink of an eye? It’s not like you can just rebuild a death star by snapping your fingers. It’s like the author was brainstorming and only came up with “I know I just concluded this storyline in the last book but imagine this—maybe all that stuff didn’t happen” and just went from there. It’s just all… lazy.
If you skipped this very healthy, very understandable rant—you don’t know what you’re missing. Every now and then, we as readers should reflect on our biggest disappointments and vent a little, as it’s the only resolution we’ll ever get. I don’t regret any of the complaints above, as they were all perfectly reasonable requests despite the book only being intended for middle-graders. I work with elementary school children all the time and if you think that your explanation of “and everything was magically fixed because magic” will still fly when they’re that age, you’re probably not ready to be a parent. Not only was the conclusion sans resolution, the entire book itself felt rushed, and the premise completely undid half the stuff the last book worked so hard to accomplish in the blink of an eye. I don’t exactly regret rating this at a 3/5, but had I known it was the planned conclusion—as opposed to the de facto one—I would’ve roasted it over the coals earlier and saved myself some time.
Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows – by John August
• Original Rating – 3 /5 ✪
• Updated Rating – 1.8 /5 ✪