Archer’s Goon was one of the first DWJ books I read outside of the Chrestomanci series. It’s still one of my very favourites by her. I remember just really liking the plot twists when I was much younger, and then learning to appreciate the creation of this magical, powerful family that farms a town, all of the siblings horrible and brilliant in their own way as they go about both one-upping and spying on each other. This book also happens to be one of the ones I reread the most, so when I started on it I figured that it’d be the one with least surprises for me – I vaguely remembered the plot twists, even if I had to jog my memory a bit. (Incidentally, why am I so bad at remembering DWJ’s books completely when I reread them so much?)
The main character in Archer’s Goon is a thirteen-year-old boy named Howard, who after having a bad day at school comes home to find a Goon in his kitchen, demanding for “Archer’s two thousand” that Howard’s dad Quentin owes. He’s afraid of the Goon at first, but tries to get him out of the house so that his sister Awful and their father’s student Fifi (who also appears to function as a live-in housekeeper/babysitter) wouldn’t be scared. The Goon turns out to be not that bad (although not quite harmless) and takes Howard to see different members of Archer’s family, who are all “megalomaniac wizards” (in the words of Howard’s dad) that farm things from banking, transport and crime in their town and have aspirations to farm the rest of the world. Something is keeping them from leaving the town, and they think it’s Quentin’s words.
In this reread I focused more on Awful, the main character Howard’s sister. I was thinking of the theme of this year’s DWJ March, as well as trying to figure out if I still found her annoying. I don’t. Anyway, focusing on Awful’s actions and words and interactions with Howard made me realise that not only is she one of my favourite characters, she’s a character that stayed on in my mind – even when I didn’t quite know it – there are bits and pieces of her that I think back on every now and then, something she had said or just a thing she would have done in any particular situation. I wrote about her in my third “Ladies and Lasses of DWJ” post, in which I admired her strong will and creativity and the fact that she showed me another way to be a girl – “awful”, yes, but also awesome.
Awful isn’t the only thing that I found I liked better on this reread – I seem to have forgotten the list of things the book set out to prove, and did (except perhaps “pigs have wings, making them hard to catch” – or have I missed out on that part?). My favourite parts were “all power corrupts, but we need electricity” and “the female of the species is more deadly than the male”, which are both, of course, true. This book is also about siblings, which I have NOT forgotten, and is in fact one of the reasons it’s one of my favourites. I love the relationship between Howard and Awful, how they easily understood, accepted, and on occasion, used each other’s flaws and strengths. I also loved how the wizards related to each other – how some of them are enemies and some are allies, and some are separated due to misunderstandings (and have happy reunions later).
I’ve heard complaints that this book runs a lot slower and is harder to get into, but that’s part of why it’s in my favourites – by the end of it, all the details that didn’t seem so important at first comes together and made perfect sense. The thing that I seem to have glossed over when I was younger that made me uncomfortable now, though, is the depiction of Shine’s fatness as some kind of grotesque thing, which I only felt (slightly) better about because Dillian is described as plump AND glamorous. And Fifi’s fate, which I will not disclose here, except to say that I had completely forgotten what happened to her at the end of the book. I wasn’t sure if she quite deserved it, even as I’m sure she’ll be happy with Archer. Maybe.
In conclusion: Archer’s Goon is still one of my very favourites. In this reread I may have found elements that I’m less comfortable with and had glossed over before, but I also appreciate Awful’s character a lot more.