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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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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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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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