Goldenhand – Garth Nix

I posted only a few weeks ago about how excited I was for Goldenhand to be published in October. Somewhat unexpectedly, I didn’t have to wait that long at all to get my hands on a copy of the fifth foray into the Old Kingdom. Having spent the weekend at YALC and carefully perused the twitter feeds and MaximumPop!Books posts advising me of who was dropping which proofs when, I was one of several people loitering suspiciously near the Hot Key Books stand at 12 on the Sunday, when they were rumoured to be handing out *signed* Garth Nix proofs.

So it was with great excitement that, after all my lurking, I did actually get my hands on one of those bad boys and was able to dive in as soon as possible. Having sated myself with the first few chapters while waiting for the next panel discussion to start, I then read late into the night and throughout the next morning as I devoured every word of this reentry into Nix’s magical Old Kingdom.

I make no secret of the fact that Garth Nix is my favourite author, and furthermore that the Old Kingdom is my favourite series, so it’s to be expected that my reaction to this would be largely composed of excited flailing. But I also like to think that the reason why Garth Nix is my absolute fave is because he’s a phenomenally talented writer, capable of building a world which is utterly immersive, while still managing to paint a story which is true to life and believable. So while I admit bias, I think that my bias is backed up by Nix’s skill. Plus, I didn’t absolutely adore Clariel, so maybe that can go some way to supporting my theory.

In any case! The actual book. The British cover art is still yet to be released, although I would expect that it will be something similar to Clariel, which in itself was similar to the original trilogy covers – solid colours with blazing Charter marks on the front. I’m excited to see that, although I have to admit that I also really like the bells on the front of the proof copy.

Lirael is no longer a shy Second Assistant Librarian. She is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, with Dead creatures to battle and Free Magic entities to bind. She’s also a Remembrancer, wielder of the Dark Mirror. Lirael lost one of her hands in the binding of Orannis, but now she has a new hand, one of gilded steel and Charter Magic.

When Lirael finds Nicholas Sayre lying unconscious after being attacked by a hideous Free Magic creature, she uses her powers to save him. But Nicholas is deeply tainted with Free Magic. Fearing it will escape the Charter mark that seals it within his flesh and bones, Lirael seeks help for Nick at her childhood home, the Clayr’s Glacier.

But even as Lirael and Nick return to the Clayr, a young woman named Ferin from the distant North braves the elements and many enemies in a desperate attempt to deliver a message to Lirael from her long-dead mother, Arielle. Ferin brings a dire warning about the Witch with No Face. But who is the Witch, and what is she planning?

Once more a great danger threatens the Old Kingdom, and it must be forestalled not only in the living world, but also in the cold, remorseless river of Death.

Goldenhand is the long-awaited fifth installment of Garth Nix’s New York Times bestselling Old Kingdom series.

So I’m just going to go right ahead and say that I absolutely adored this book. It was everything that I loved in the original trilogy, and everything that I really like about the Old Kingdom series in general, and suffered from almost none of the pacing issues that frustrated me in Clariel, the prequel.

Goldenhand brings together all the plot points from Clariel, the original trilogy, The Creature in the Case and even To Hold The Bridge, and paints a new story of the Old Kingdom which picks up the characters I loved from the previous books and catapults them into a new and thrilling situation filled with tension and excitement. It plumps out the backstory of Arielle, Lirael’s long-dead mother, adds in some great new characters – especially Ferin, the messenger from the distant North – and really shows how Lirael has grown into her new role as Abhorsen-in-Waiting.

I don’t want to put too much of the plot into this post because a) spoilers and b) it’s still a long time until the release date, but I do want to say that I really enjoyed it. It follows on from Clariel, and resolves some of the issues I had with the unfinished feeling of her story. It doesn’t feel like an add-on, though. It is a fully realised and satisfying plot of its own, and would, I think, stand well on its own – something I think is really important for follow-on novels. If this were the first Old Kingdom book you picked up, I think you’d be able to follow the story without feeling like you needed to go back and read the trilogy first. Although, of course, I would recommend that you read the trilogy. They’re excellent books, you know!

Goldenhand follows on immediately from The Creature in the Case, overlapping with it from the Old Kingdom point of view. It’s not necessary to read the novella first, but I did read it after, to refresh my memory and flesh out my understanding of the events leading to Nick and Lirael’s reunion

There were lots of things I really liked in this book, so I’ll list a few of them in bullet points here:

  • Badass female protagonist who knows what she’s doing and is capable of getting things done
  • But she isn’t one-dimensional and has all kinds of other issues which make her very human, from awkwardness around guys to dealing with her family and convincing them that she’s moved on from the quiet, Sightless librarian she used to be
  • Casual and accepting references to both lesbianism and bisexuality – particularly the latter, as it’s so easy to gloss over
  • Disabled protagonist whose story is about so much more than her disability
  • Healthy depictions of relationships (Touchstone and Sabriel are still my relationship goals)
  • Lots of interesting tidbits about the aftermath of the Binding of Orannis – Lirael is still deeply grieving for the Dog, and we get to see lots of her dealing with this (I miss the Dog.)
  • Introduction of a great new character in Ferin – a totally different person to everyone we’ve seen before, Ferin is from the Tribal North and is a whole new kind of strong female character
  • Mention of what Mogget has been up to (who doesn’t love Mogget!)
  • Explorations of new areas of the Old Kingdom. While the original trilogy was set largely around the Wall, Ferin’s journey takes further north, exploring the tribal lands above the Old Kingdom.

The proof copy I got didn’t have a map in the front pages, but that’s not to say that the final editions won’t. In fact, I would say it’s even likely, due to this tweet:

(I’m still trying to convince myself that I don’t actually need to buy this to hang on my wall.)

There were one or two things I didn’t like about Goldenhand. I know. It doesn’t seem possible. But they were tiny, tiny things, and I didn’t think they were big enough to deduct any stars from its rating. Nonetheless:

  • There wasn’t enough Sam. I want more Sam! I love Sam! Although there was talk of Sam, there wasn’t much actual presence of Sam, nor interaction with Sam, until very late in the book.
  • The pacing of the book, I thought, was a tiny bit … off. I was quite far into the book and wondering when we were going to get to the actual delivery of Ferin’s message, and was afraid for a little while that it would roll over into a sequel, leaving things unfinished. This might have been influenced by the fact that I thought Clariel left things hanging. But actually, when I kept going, this wasn’t the case at all, and everything was resolved within the one book. The ending, however, might be a tiny bit rushed. But only a tiny bit!
  • There is specific mention of Nick’s shoes midway through the book. But, having now re-read The Creature in the Case, Nick wasn’t actually wearing shoes when Lirael found him. Where did these shoes come from? I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does.

That’s it. Those are my three tiny complaints. Other than that, I really did love this book. I think it’s a more than worthy successor to the original Old Kingdom trilogy that I love so much, and surpasses Clariel by leagues. I can’t wait for the publication of Goldenhand so that I can get a hardcover copy and sit it in pride of place on my shelves next to the others. October *still* can’t come quick enough for me. I absolutely recommend that you re-read all four existing OK books and the two novellas/short stories in preparation for the release of Goldenhand later this year.

Five Stars
*****

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6 responses to “Goldenhand – Garth Nix

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