Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Garth Nix

Garth Nix is a best selling fantasy author from Australia. He currently has two series of books in print: The Keys to the Kingdom is a 7 part series featuring books with the days of the week in the title (eg. Mister Monday, Drowned Wednesday); the other series is The Old Kingdom series. This series began as a trilogy: Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen, but there is now a follow up novella, The Creature in the Case, which was published for World Book Day in Great Britain this March. This short story takes place six months after the end of Abhorsen and concentrates on Nicholas Sayre, who was a secondary character in that book.

Nicholas is still recovering from the injuries he received at the end of Abhorsen, but after several months spent rather idly in Ancelstierre, he is very keen to return north to the Old Kingdom. His uncle, who is a politician in the Ancelstierrian government offers him a way to get what he wants, but first he has to attend a country house party. Nicholas thinks will be an easy way to achieve his goal, but then he discovers that there is a dormant Free Magic creature in the basement far under Dorrance Hall. The owner of the house is in thrall to the creature and seeks to free it by means of Nicholas' blood, for although Nicholas was born an Ancelstierrian, he became a citizen of the Old Kingdom as a result of the events in Abhorsen. The creature in the case needs the blood of someone imbued with the Charter Magic that protects the Old Kingdom in order to be reanimated, but there is something different about Nicholas' blood and the creature runs out of the control of Dorrance. Nicholas feels impelled by guilt at his association with a far stronger Free Magic creature, to try to prevent the creature from reaching the Old Kingdom, and this 100+ page novella is a fast-paced race across Ancelstierre to the border with the Old Kingdom, where Nicholas hopes to overcome the creature.

Charter Magic and Free Magic are inimical to each other - the Charter of the Old Kingdom names, describes and contains everything within the Old Kingdom. Charter Magic is available to those who, by birth or baptism (or both), are Charter Mages, although wielding this magic (as with any magic) is risky, even to the trained user. Free Magic, on the hand, uses different powers, which are not described or contained the Charter, and all necromancers, except for the Abhorsens, are Free Magic sorcerers. The Abhorsens are the only Charter Mages who can also use Free Magic, but they must use it carefully and resist the lure of its power. Sabriel, the eponymous heroine of the first Old Kingdom book is an Abhorsen and she uses Charter Magic and necromancy to protect the Old Kingdom. An Abhorsen is equipped with a set of seven bells which they use to fight the Dead who are always ready to attempt to invade the Old Kingdom. Lirael, the eponymous heroine of the second book discovers she is both an Abhorsen in Waiting, and a Remembrancer - someone who can go into the past with the aid of certain magical artefacts and can recall the past to those who need its knowledge.

I highly recommend this series - the stories are gripping and the characters are very believable, and both Sabriel and Lirael are strong, heroic young women. American readers will find The Creature in the Case included in Garth Nix's short story collection Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories.


Camille said...

I have started Sabriel at least 3 times, once as an audio book. I cannot seem to get into it. One of my favorite young readers has declared it to be one of her favorite books. I am going to give it another try.

Michele said...

Oh do because it really is worth persevering with ! Sabriel gets my vote, in part because I love the fact that the "princess" rescues the Prince from being trapped in a timeless place, rather than the other way round !


Mrs. Coulter said...

I just finished rereading the Abhorsen trilogy and loved it as much the second time around as the first. It's a bit of a different read when you know what's going to happen (and exactly who and what the Disreputable Dog is). I have to agree that the turn-around of the princess rescuing the prince is nice; also the whole royal bastard thing is very cool.

All in all, the female characters are stronger and in some ways much more heroic than any of the male characters. The writing in Sabriel is better than Lirael and Abhorsen (which really feel like they were supposed to be one longer book and the publisher made him split it).

I am torn about the new short story; I have been less impressed with Nix's other work (though we have been enjoying the Keys to the Kingdom), and I am hesitant to run out and buy a hardcover for a single story. I do wish he would write more about the Old Kingdom, though. I would like very much to know more about Chlorr and her history (how did she end up as an evil necromancer?), and also more about Lirael's mother...

Michele said...

Mrs Coulter that's exactly why Nix's Old Kingdom series is one of the handful of series about which I intend to write a chapter in my currently-being-researched book on female heroes in fantasy !

If you're not keen on buying the H/B containing Creature (which I can empathise with) - I could pick up a copy for you on Saturday (assuming they still have copies in the store - sooner if I can get there) and I'll mail it to you... My email address is on the front page of my Blog so drop me a line with a mailing address to send it to, and I'll do that. It's currently half price (50p - less than a $1 !) and is so slim, it won't cost much to airmail it to you.