Matt Archer is a bit of a dork. We love those sorts of characters, don’t we? One friend, down on his luck, one parent run out on him, bullied a bit by one sibling who’s bigger and stronger than him, pitied by another sibling who’s smarter than him. Living with a hopeless crush on a girl who’ll never notice him, the same girl who’s dating the number one jerk in the school…
…and then you kill your first sasquatch/demon bear monster and all that changes.
There is a ton to like about Matt Archer, and his peculiar set of circumstances: the YA convention of being drawn into an urban fantasy setting with a character who doesn’t really know what’s going on, we learn as he does, the thrill of danger and the cool world that’s just below the surface that you kind of wish you were also a part of. You know, the world of Harry Potter. Or in this case Matt Archer.
The characters have their definitive quirks and true-to-life voices. Mom, Brent, Mamie, Ella, Will, all the army dudes, and Matt are far from cookie cutter, and definitely have their own well-crafted dialogue.
As for the rest of the technical specs, the book is about what you’d expect of high-grade YA urban fantasy: a nice sarcastic first person voice with a nice garnish of adolescence and some good humor. Secondly, the conventional three act narrative (which veers only slightly into being too conventionally plotted), and a wonderfully smooth pace with the sorts of fun twists and developments you’d expect from a master craftsman. The humorous spots were nice (the ride in the jet being my personal favorite) and while the book got pretty gory, mostly a young adult audience could handle it.
The only real trouble with this book (aside from it being a bit formulaic) was the cursing… yes we know students around the tween/teen ages talk like this, and yes we know they shouldn’t, and yes of course we’re kind of uncomfortable omitting those words because it’s not good form to tell the truth, but yes we also acknowledge that YA is mostly curse free (even though this kind of flies in the face of reality, which authors don’t like to do… argh!), and yes we want to try to help young people learn the sorts of lessons in this book, about bravery and doing the right thing, without the possibility of being seen as encouraging young people to swear. It’s almost as impossible as, say… walking the edge of a magic knife. We understand all that, and try our best to sand out the swearing where we can…
In any event, young people will probably get a kick out of Matt Archer (and write letters to the author demanding to know when the next book’s coming out), and adults who like the sorts of Harry Potter-like YA fantasy branch outs will probably also like this as well. It gets a well-deserved four and a half stars from AIA reviewers.