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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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To Hold the Bridge

It has taken me a shamefully long time to write this blog post, despite my enduring love of Garth Nix and how much I enjoyed this collection of short stories – mostly because I spent the last week preparing for BUCS Outdoor Archery competition, and then the weekend doing the competition, and then the last four days complaining about how much pain I was in after the competition (and the rain…!)

Nonetheless, now that I’m back at my computer, and able to type properly, it’s time to post about Garth Nix’s newest short story collection!
Once again, it’s worth noting that I am lucky enough to be on Hot Key Books’ blogger list, so I was sent an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
To Hold the Bridge – Garth Nix

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A short story collection, including an Old Kingdom novella, from author Garth Nix!

Far to the north of the magical Old Kingdom, the Greenwash Bridge Company has been building a bridge for almost a hundred years. It is not an easy task, for many dangers threaten the bridge builders, from nomad raiders to Free Magic sorcerers. Despite the danger, Morghan wants nothing more than to join the Bridge Company as a cadet. But the company takes only the best, the most skillful Charter mages, and trains them hard, for the night might come when only a single young cadet must hold the bridge against many foes. Will Morghan be that cadet?

Also included in this collection are eighteen short stories that showcase Nix’s versatility as he adds a fantastical twist on an array of genres including science fiction, paranormal, realistic fiction, mystery, and adventure.

It’s difficult to review a collection of short stories, because it’s not like they have the same characters which develop through the course of the book. Instead, what we have is a collection of snippets, glimpses into fantasy worlds, and small, isolated incidents in characters lives – but Nix is excellent at this. The nineteen short stories which make up the book are a collection of science fiction and fantasy which each presents their own distinct world and enthralling characters, neatly wrapped up in bite-sized pieces.
Although short stories can sometimes seem like an information dump, these were nicely paced in that they revealed enough of the world for the reader to make sense of it, but didn’t burden us with unnecessary information.

Three of the stories were set in worlds from Nix’s full-length novels – To Hold the Bridge, the title story, is set in the Old Kingdom, naturally. There are also one story each set in the worlds of Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes. I really enjoyed these – a glimpse into a different, totally disconnected, part of the same world. The only issue I had with To Hold the Bridge is that I actually have no idea when it happened – is it before Clariel? Between Clariel and the Old Kingdom trilogy? During the Interregnum?
Well, no, it wasn’t during the Interregnum. They mentioned a queen.

In any case – Nix is a master of short fiction, and this collection showcases his varied skills in worldbuilding and character creation.
I saw on twitter last week that he was making notes about Ermine College, the setting of ‘A Handful of Ashes’.

I have to say I’m pleased about this, as I really thought there was much more could be done with this particular world – it was probably my favourite ‘new’ world in the collection.

Although I have seen some complaints that all of these short stories have been published before, in different collections, I really enjoyed the chance to see the spectrum of Nix’s seemingly limitless world-building skills in a single collection.

Five Stars
*****

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Book #120 – Clariel

2014-09-25 19.58.56I have been anticipating the release of this book since about 2009, when I realised that Nix intended on writing more Old Kingdom stories.
Last year, I was lucky enough to obtain a sneaklet of the first two chapters of the book, at another Garth Nix event, which I posted about here. The official publication date of Clariel is October 2nd, but I was lucky enough to be able to pick up a copy at a book signing event in Dublin, so I had Clariel in my hands on September 25th, and had finished it by September 26th. This was probably my most anticipated book of the year, and so it’s probably also the fastest I’ve reviewed a book all year, too.

Clariel – Garth Nix

Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilip. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.

With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her – and it is herself she must question most of all.

2014-09-25 18.31.20Unusually for a review, since I normally have ebooks, I’ve got a few points about the actual print edition of this book. It’s a HotKey trade paperback, meaning that there’s been a change in publisher from the first three Old Kingdom books, which were published by Harper Collins. That’s not the worst in the world, because the cover design for this edition was based on the original Sabriel cover design, even down to the spot-laminated Charter Marks. It’s very cool-looking, although the charter marks aren’t on the back cover, and they don’t reach the top or bottom of the front cover. Even still, though, it’s a very good-looking book.
I was very surprised that the first edition is a trade paperback – it’s taller than either my Lirael or Abhorsen first-edition hardbacks, and taller by far than Sabriel or Across the Wall, both of which I have in paperback. I appreciate the continuity in cover design, though, even if there are minor differences in height and format.
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As for the story itself – I thoroughly enjoyed it. Clariel, as most people know well, tells the origin story of a, quite frankly terrifying, character from the Old Kingdom trilogy, one which was hinted (by Mogget) to have quite the backstory. The book starts off with seventeen(not sixteen, as the blurb says)-year-old Clariel in the royal city of Belisaere, six hundred years before the Old Kingdom trilogy. It’s a bustling, thriving, really different city to what we’ve seen in the Old Kingdom – before the Interregnum and the fall of the Regency, without broken Charter Stones all around the land and in a Kingdom where a Dead thing hasn’t been seen in years, it’s a hugely different (and hugely interesting) look at the Old Kingdom, with a, quite frankly, disagreeable protagonist.
Clariel is headstrong, independent, possibly asexual, and really interesting to read about, but she’s also a really cantankerous and disagreeable teenage girl. Having been forced to move away from my home when I was a teenager, I can understand this, and it makes her all the more real to relate to.

Living in Belisaere quickly becomes dangerous for Clariel, and we get to see more of the Old Kingdom again as Clariel begins on the path which will lead her to becoming the character we’ve met before. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say more than that.

I loved the extension of the world in Clariel, and I loved the character of Clariel, too. I really enjoyed learning more about Free Magic, about the Abhorsens and about what Belisaere was like as a thriving city, before the ruin of the Interregnum.
My only disappointment with the book was that it didn’t go far enough – we saw only one episode in Clariel’s life, and although it’s clear where she’s going (since we know the endpoint), I really would have liked to see how Clariel continued along the path she took the first steps on in this novel.

It’s for this reason that I don’t feel like I can give Clariel the same all-star rating that the Old Kingdom trilogy gets from me. Yes, it’s definitely one of my favourite books this year, and yes I thoroughly recommend it. From any other author I’d be giving it a rave review, but I think in this instance that I was just a tiny bit disappointed in Nix. I know it’s not any fun to tell the whole story, you have to let the reader guess some things, but I would’ve liked to see Clariel take one or two more steps along the path we know she takes.
I also have a complaint about the sub-title of the book, but enumerating that would be really too much of a spoiler. Suffice it to say that something I would’ve expected to come to pass from what I had read thus far did not do so, and I was a little surprised.

Still a wonderful book, and a gorgeous look at the earlier years of the Old Kingdom.
Four Stars
****

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Book #57 – Newt’s Emerald

18802092Have I mentioned any time recently that Garth Nix is my favourite author? Not in a few months, apparently. Well, he is. Has been for a long time. So when I realised he had released a new book (albeit in digital format only), I had to get hold of it.

And so!

Newt’s Emerald – Garth Nix

This book is totally, completely, a million miles away from anything Nix has ever released before. It’s a Regency Romance – historical fiction set in the early 19th Century with a focus on the love story. While it does have the addition of magic, it’s a million miles away from the rest of Nix’s books which are high fantasy, space operas, and certainly not romances, even if they do have romantic subplots.

Newt’s Emerald, in any case, tells the tale of the Lady Truthful Newington, who is in London in search of a precious family heirloom which was stolen from her home. Unfortunately, it being the Regency era, women are not permitted to be out alone, and certainly not in search of an emerald, which may lead to all sorts of impropriety, thus the only solution is for Truthful to disguise herself as a man and embark upon as many adventures as she can possibly cram into 200 pages.

This book was a complete departure from Nix’s previous style, as I have mentioned before, but it was certainly a very enjoyable read. Much lighter and frothier than most of his other books, with a certain amount of farce, mistaken identity, deliberate confusion, the stringent social mores of the time and a healthy dose of ballgowns, dancing, and the inexorable falling in love with your gallant supporting male character, I read this book in two days and enjoyed every word of it. It’s not as good as Nix’s other works, but it’s still thoroughly enjoyable.

Four Stars
****

 

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Twinmaker – Sean Williams

The same day that I went to see Garth Nix in Forbidden Planet, he was co-signing books with Sean Williams.
Now, this is largely because they have co-written a series, but I did not know this, because they are children’s books, and I only read YA fiction. I might not read for my age group, but damn it, I’m not going too much lower!
Ha, I kid, I just didn’t know.
I had never heard of Sean Williams before, incidentally.
But while I was waiting to meet Garth Nix, I picked up a copy of Twinmaker, Williams’ new novel, which was also on sale there. It was actually the first chance anyone had to buy Twinmaker, which is pretty damn cool.
I was bored, and I decided I’d pick up a copy of this too. Plus, I got it signed. Very cool, check it out:

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Twinmaker – Sean Williams
Anyways. After the trauma of reading an actual book (A Confusion of Princes), I waited a while before reading Twinmaker, and read all the Riordans in between. I can only deal with being away from the Kindle for so long. And Twinmaker is a hefty enough book.

Anyways. I got started on Twinmaker I think, three or four days ago, and finished it today (I don’t always review in order, hence why Riordan and Nix aren’t reviewed in the order I read them). Twinmaker was excellent. Much better than I actually thought it would be!

So Twinmaker: the blurb reads as follows.
You are special.
You are unique.
And you have been selected.

The method is simple.
Improvement is certain.
You can change anything.

If you were given the chance to change something about yourself, would you? Should you? Clair is pretty sure the offer in the ‘Improvement’ meme is just another viral spam, though Libby is determined to give it a try. But what starts as Libby’s dream turns into Clair’s nightmare when her friend vanishes.

In her search for answers, Clair seeks out Jesse – a boy whose alternative lifestyle might help to uncover the truth. What they don’t anticipate is intervention from the mysterious contact known only as Q, and being caught up in a conspiracy that will change everything.

That was what I had to go on. So I decided I wanted it.
I’m not gonna go too far into the plot, because that makes reading the book yourself no fun, but suffice it to say that it had enough changes and twists and happenings to keep me really interested. The love interest was quite convincing too.

What really interested me about this book, though, was that it read a bit like a cross between A Confusion of Princes, which I had read the previous week, and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy plus one.
It had all the augmented vision and embedded systems of A Confusion of Princes – although they were contact lenses connected to the internet rather than a psychic connection to an Imperial Mind, combined with the matter construction and throwaway culture of Uglies. As well as that it had the improvement idea which is a central tenet of the Uglies trilogy, combined with the messaging and popularity system which we saw in Extras – like a super-advanced version of Google Glass. The science behind it was (to my plebian eyes, anyways) really well backed up as well. It would appear that d-mat is something of a specialisation of Williams’.

Now I have to admit that I really enjoyed Westerfeld’s Uglies books, and I said just yesterday that I really enjoyed A Confusion of Princes, so the same or similar elements appearing in Twinmaker was going to get a thumbs up from me (provided they were well-written). And they were well-written! It really is an excellent book.

Incidentally, while I knew that Williams and Nix obviously had a link, since they co-write some books, when I read the Author’s Note at the back, Scott Westerfeld was one of the people thanked. I wonder do they just have little conferences where they discuss things which they should put in books which will make Aislinn really happy? I like to think they do.

My only complaints about Twinmaker – the ending seemed a little rushed, especially the last two or three pages. And I have to wait a WHOLE YEAR for the next book to come out. I HATE being left on a ledge like that!

So FOUR STARS for Twinmaker, and an enthusiastic recommendation from me.
****

Also, Sean Williams is really nice on twitter. Really nice!

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A Confusion of Princes – Garth Nix

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I went to a Garth Nix book signing in Forbidden Planet, and I was full of incredible feelings at meeting Garth Nix and I was basically starstruck.
I was. It was incredible.

But while I was there, I had to buy a book for Garth Nix to sign, so I bought a Confusion of Princes, which is a standalone Space Opera, according to the internet.
I would have just called it a Sci-Fi book, but I’m sure the internet knows better than me.

And it’s signed. Look! It’s beautiful!

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So! The book itself!
I have to admit, that since Garth Nix is one of, if not my actual, favourite author(s), I’m biased towards liking his books. The Old Kingdom Trilogy remains a stalwart beacon of love and admiration in my childhood memories and I still re-read it every now and then and enjoy it just as much. So this review might be overly positive. I admit that.

In any case. A Confusion of Princes showcases Nix’s incredible world-building skills once more – in an Imperial galaxy, Khemri is one of thousands of Princes, augmented, improved and basically better than all the mere humans in the world.
Just as he graduates from Prince School. he is sent on a series of secret missions, to do… well, he doesn’t know what.

As I just mentioned, Nix’s worldbuilding is incredible. He really immerses you in the world so you don’t feel like you’re missing any details, things become clear when you need to know them, but you’re never left feeling bombarded by information. Except at the very beginning when the Teks were being explained. I did NOT get that.

But I think that’s the only problem I had with this book. It was a beautiful standalone book, which seems to be getting all the more rare these days, and it tied up everything into a nice neat bow. It left me with an incredibly excited and satisfied feeling after reading it, like I had something beautiful in my hands, and I really enjoyed the experience of reading it.

Oh, except I had one other issue – the tagline on the front of the book is misleading. Bah.

But overall,
FOUR STARS!
****

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Clariel Sneaklet

Today was one of the best days I’ve had in ages.
Anniversaries, boyfriend, nephew, whatever to all that stuff….!

Today, I met Garth Nix. And it was fantastic.

Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy was the first high fantasy series I read, and one of the first fantasy, and it has remained lodged in my consciousness ever since.
Although I don’t tend towards favourites, if pressed for a favourite author, Nix would probably be it, and he has been for the last ten years, or possibly more.
I know that when Abhorsen was published, it was very close to my birthday/Easter, and we had taken a trip to Achill (I think). I don’t remember properly, because I spent as much of the trip as I could buried in the book, devouring every word on the page.

That was probably nine years ago? Although I don’t hold his Keys to the Kingdom or standalone books in the same excessively high regard as the Old Kingdom, I’m very fond of them. I also thoroughly approve of the KttK because they managed to stay in the same format for the entire publishing run, making them one of the only full sets of books I have which match.

So last week, when I realised that Garth Nix was going to be in London doing a book signing, and giving away sneak previews of Clariel, which is an upcoming Old Kingdom book, I knew I had to be there.
I was afraid briefly that I was going to have to skip out on lectures, but thankfully it didn’t come to that. I queued up for about half an hour to meet this man, and I was quite honestly delighted. He’s a gentleman and a lovely man, who signed my new book (A Confusion of Princes, being one of the few Nix books I didn’t already have) and engaged in lovely banter with me for a few minutes. I don’t think anyone could have a bad word to say about him.

Equally exciting, though, is the fact that he gave me a preview of Clariel. I’ve been waiting for this book since before I knew it existed, and to get a sneak preview of the prologue and first three chapters is beyond exciting.
I devoured it on the way home, and am only upset that there’s not more than three chapters there. I’ll just have to try and get my hands on an ARC next year.

So yes. I will discuss the Clariel excerpt maybe another day. Today I’m just full of squealing and fangirling.
My only regret is that I didn’t get there earlier – the first four people in line got bell charms. I would LOVE to have gotten one of those.

Also signing at Forbidden Planet was Sean Williams, who has cowritten a series with Nix. I bought his book Twinmaker, which looks really good. He was really nice and really friendly, but he’s not Garth Nix, so I wasn’t as star struck at the sight of him.
I’m still crazy happy with how today went, though.

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