The Exploding Spaceship: Review of A.J. Hartley’s Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck

[Editor’s note: The Exploding Spaceship is a new regular column by Gerald and Angela Blackwell, covering books, authors, events, and who knows what else.]

THE EXPLODING SPACESHIP: Review of Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck by A.J. Hartley — Volume 2 in the Darwen Arkwright series (Nov 2012, Razorbill)

The previous volume in the series (Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact) won the Southern Independent Booksellers Association’s Young Adult Book of the Year award for 2011. This series is an excellent choice for family reading. While it is aimed at grades 4-6, the story is very character-driven and complex enough for adults.

Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck

Darwen and his friends at Hillside Academy in Atlanta, Georgia return for another adventure. Darwen’s life as a mirroculist (a person with the ability to detect and travel through magical mirrors) in the otherworldly land of Silbrica and his life at school intersect in a most unexpected way.

In the wake of the events in the first book, Darwen, an orphan from northern England who was sent to live with his aunt in the US, is still adjusting to life in Atlanta. He has made a couple of friends, Richard and Alexandra, but like many his age he isn’t very good at maintaining friendships.

Now a monster is kidnapping children and it will take Darwen and all his friends and allies in both worlds to stop it. Unfortunately for Darwen, telling enemies from allies proves difficult, particularly where the adults are concerned, so the kids are on their own with no one to advise them.

Set against the backdrop of a school field trip to Costa Rica, the kids have many new adventures, of both the fun and dangerous varieties, and they have to sift through local myths and legends to try and separate fact from fancy.

Overall, this is an exciting adventure which will keep readers guessing who will or will not survive. The villains are powerful, dangerous and very intelligent, so the heroes really have to rely on brains and teamwork to defeat them.  Darwen’s friendships develop further, but he has also made some powerful new enemies, so future times at Hillside Academy are sure to be anything but dull.

A.J. Hartley is a contributor to The Magical Words Blog at


The Exploding Spaceship is a new regular column by Gerald and Angela Blackwell, covering books, authors, events, and who knows what else. Their first contribution to the print version of Bull Spec, an interview with Baen publisher Toni Weisskopf, is forthcoming in issue #8.


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