Tying up threads

The Sham Castle, Bathampton, Bath from an old postcard

Garth Nix: Goldenhand
Hot Key Books 2017 (2016)

As I would expect from one of Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom novels Goldenhand is chockful of suspense, bravery and fortitude. What I didn’t see coming were the inklings of young love, not once but twice, but what I did hope for were resolutions of threads that had been left slightly hanging from previous books in the series, and in this I was not disappointed.

If in the end I was disappointed it was in the actual execution of those resolutions, which felt a bit perfunctory in the last few chapters. This isn’t to detract from the otherwise masterful storytelling which had this reader continually tempted to read just a few more pages, and perhaps a little bit more after that; or from the convincing worldbuilding that has suffused and sustained the Old Kingdom sequence now for five novels and a couple of novellas.

Lirael, the sympathetic protagonist of the second of the novels, is now Abhorsen-in-Waiting and a powerful Charter Magic necromancer. When the Abhorsen Sabriel (focus of the first book in the series) decides to take a well-earned honeymoon with King Touchstone, young Lirael is left in charge to take responsibility for dealing with reanimated dead creatures plus a Free Magic entity which suddenly emerges to create a crisis to the south of the Wall. Meanwhile, in the far north of the Old Kingdom a young woman named Ferin is being pursued by malevolent beings who track her flight to the south. Is her mission linked with the troubles Lirael is facing further south? You can guarantee it. And what else is it that binds the fates of these two resourceful young women?

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The mask of hindsight

Haverfordwest gorsedd circle
Not Charter Stones but Haverfordwest’s gorsedd circle for the 1972 National Eisteddfod

Garth Nix Clariel Hot Key Books 2014

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to prequels. You’d think, with Clariel preceding the action in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy, that it would be easy to predict the way events will go, and that the end result is a foregone conclusion. If you did, you’d be wrong. As, indeed, was I.

Set centuries before the events Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen, Nix’s novel opens unprepossessingly with an old fisherman, Marral, who beachcombs the shore in front of the city of Belisaere, but who then picks up an object he shouldn’t. We then cut to young Clariel who has been brought against her will to this byzantine metropolis by her parents when all she wants to do is live a life in the Great Forest. But, increasingly, she finds herself hemmed in by circumstances and political machinations; and, to add to the usual teenage growing pains, she is subject to virtually uncontrollable rages when she is pushed towards and beyond the threshold of her dangerous temper.

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Many layers of allusion

Mogget's map of the Old Kingdom credit: http://oldkingdomwiki.wikia.com/wiki/Mogget%27s_Map?file=Map.jpg
Mogget’s map of the Old Kingdom
credit: http://oldkingdomwiki.wikia.com/wiki/Mogget%27s_Map?file=Map.jpg

Garth Nix Sabriel
HarperCollins Children’s Books 2003 (1995)

A young woman finds herself thrust into a task that she feels unprepared for, and of course you have to hope that, despite the odds, she succeeds. This being fantasy, first cousin to fairytales and heir to human dreams, you can be almost certain that she will. But, to quote the song, what gets results is not what you do but the way that you do it; and because Garth Nix is a talented writer, with a long track record in publishing and editing, the end result is a very distinguished and impressive first volume in The Old Kingdom series that rarely feels as if it’s peddling clichés.

In some countries the trilogy is named the Abhorsen series, from the title of the gatekeeper between the realms of the living and the dead, a necromancer who communicates with the deceased through the use of a set of bells. Sabriel, the daughter of the current Abhorsen, finds herself in quest of her missing father with only the instruments of his calling and a talking cat called Mogget. This involves a dangerous foray from Ancelstierre into the Old Kingdom where magic is strong; conversely anything mechanical is unable to function. Her search requires her to journey through inimical landscapes, survive a siege, fly in an engineless aircraft called a paperwing and survive numerous brushes with death, vividly described as being an underground river flowing through nine precincts. This is not a laugh-a-minute tale. Continue reading “Many layers of allusion”