The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse Book Poster Image
Kids aim to foil villain's plans in quirky retro romp.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Vocabulary is demanding and sentences complex here: "Mrs. Thimbleton lifted your expulsion, with the caveat that should you return, you would be closely monitored." There's a fun interlude with old-time (and very clunky) radio technology.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of family, friendship, determination, and loyalty. Also quick thinking and an appreciation for different people's individual talents.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Twelve-year-old Archer and his friends are relatable and appealing as they work to foil a villain's evil plans and navigate the sometimes-conflicting challenges of friendship -- like the kid who's both a friend to Archer and the son of the villain. As in the first book, the kids often ignore parental authority for a good cause: saving Archer's grandparents. Not only do they break into buildings, steal mail, and otherwise sneak around, they drug an adult as part of a scheme.


The violence is cartoonish and little real harm usually results, but besides a nefarious scheme for world domination that involves drugging unsuspecting victims, villains grab, imprison, and threaten the kids, tear off the front of a house, and also leave an elderly couple on an iceberg to die. Archer's friend Adélaïde has a wooden leg due to a childhood mishap, and a mean girl trips her; an adult has one eye.


Tween characters sometimes hold hands for mutual support, and some characters are starting to have a flicker of romantic interest in others.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Much of the plot deals with "Doxical Powder," a powerful substance that makes people do the opposite of what they normally would -- and a lot of ethical dilemmas about whether it's OK to dose unsuspecting people in service of a "good cause."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that while The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse is billed as a "stand-alone sequel" to author-illustrator Nicholas Gannon's The Doldrums, it picks up where the first book ended. Readers who skip volume 1 may get lost at times -- and also miss a long-running in-joke about a character's wooden leg. There's Dahl-esque comic creepiness (hidden laboratories, poisonous plants, talking taxidermied animals) and cartoonish violence (villains abandon explorers on an iceberg, grab and threaten kids, etc.). It also dips into the ethics of biochemical warfare, as heroes and villains consider using a substance called "Doxical Powder" for their own ends. Through it all, oddball 12-year-olds Archer, Adélaïde, and Oliver navigate their dreamily retro world and the demands of friendship as they try to foil a villain's plot against Archer's explorer grandparents.

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What's the story?

Following the events of Book 1, things should be pretty great for 12-year-old Archer Helmsley. But, as you might guess from the title THE DOLDRUMS AND THE HELMSLEY CURSE, his troubles are far from over. His idolized explorer grandparents, believed to have perished years earlier on an iceberg, should be returning to the city of Rosewood in triumph -- but instead their enemies at the prestigious Society are trying to discredit and expel the elder Helmsleys, even blaming them for the bad weather. Archer's determined to help his grandparents. His friends are pretty much up for anything to help. Propaganda wars, trickery, vehicle theft, and home demolition follow. Multiple characters are dosed with a behavior-altering substance called "Doxical Powder."

Is it any good?

Author-illustrator Nicholas Gannon brings back the dreamy, retro world of Rosewood and the formerly friendless tweens who have one another's back through weird times and zany adventures. Full-color artwork and black-and-white spot illustrations help tell the story, which includes several important new characters and launches story arcs that could go on forever. Gannon's whimsical, leisurely storytelling may frustrate more action-oriented readers, but he offers many understated gems.

"Many things in this world can rack you with guilt, but treating your good friends poorly and having those same friends acting as though it never happened at all takes the cake.

"'It's perfect,' Archer managed. 'Thank you.""


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the explorers in The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse. Why are stories about explorers so popular? What other stories about explorers do you know, and do you have any favorites?

  • Do you want to go off on adventures yourself, or are you perfectly happy to sit at home and read about other people's?

  • If one of your friends told you that one of your family members was doing something bad (or vice versa), how would you find out the truth?

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For kids who love adventure and fantasy

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