Darren Shan is an author synonymous with dark tales for teenagers. In his latest series, the story begins in on a busy bridge, where young Archie witnesses a girl disappear through a portal to escape two murderous thugs. When he discovers he has the ability to open the locked portal, Archie enters a strange universe called the Merge, which is made up of many different realms, each one as imaginative and bonkers as the next. When he catches up with the girl, Inez, she recognises that Archie is a natural locksmith and takes him along on her secret mission, all the time pursued by the villainous duo.
In Book 2, they rescue a friend from a gambling empress on an island of pineapples where all the buildings are giant abacuses. Book 3 sees them face many dangers to prevent a realm falling into the wrong hands.
As you would expect with Shan, the writing is fluid and the action is fast, and he’s often at his best writing about monsters. Book 1’s hell jackals are brilliantly terrifying. At one point Archie says, ‘My head is hurting from trying to keep up with everything,’ and as a reader, I could empathise, but once you agree to suspend reality, you soon become swept away by the adventure. The world-building is extremely creative, but at its heart, this book is about the growing friendship between Archie and Inez. A modern, Alice in Wonderland-type fantasy. 12-14