Archibald Lox should have returned home to his foster parents after his adventures in the Merge in Archibald Lox and the Bridge Between Worlds. When we meet him again in Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan, he escapes those pursuing him in New York, steps onto a vine and is suddenly in the bell tower of Big Ben. There he meets another locksmith like himself, skilled in the art of opening impossible locks, and his adventure should have ended there.
Unfortunately, Winston-the-locksmith confesses to Archie that he is too old and weary to assist Inez on her quest and that the entire realm might fail as a result. Archie knows that he has no choice but to join Inez on the Pineapple Island and intriguingly, Winston believes Archie might just have the skills to unlock the most difficult lock of all.
That is why Archie and Inez find themselves in the realm of Suanpan, an impossibly massive world of domes and gamblers where the friends must risk everything in order to succeed in a game of wits and chance against the empress.
Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan is non-stop adventure from the very first page and once again transports readers to magical realms beyond their wildest imaginations. The world of Suanpan is wickedly Kafkaesque and the maniacal empress makes for a very dastardly foe as Archie and his friends come to terms with how real and dangerous their predicament is.
The second book of Volume One of Darren Shan's Archibald Lox series, Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan is another short yet incredibly readable book which will appeal to even the most reluctant young readers.
I give Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan a superb five out of five stars and am so pleased I've finally written this review so that I can start reading Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment, the final book in Volume One. If you're looking for a slightly longer read, all three books in Volume One are now available in one book, Archibald Lox Volume 1: The Missing Princess (affiliate link, if you buy using this link, I'll get a small commission).