Author: Garth Nix
Release date: 24 September 2020
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.
Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.
Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.
Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.
Quick recap! 🙂
The year is 1983. The town, London. Susan is just out trying to explore the world, find a job, go to her classes, and find her biological father. Her only tangible lead, a crime boss, suddenly gets disintegrated into dust and she ends up being thrust into a chase at the lead of the same person who killed him. After a rather abrupt orientation with the clan of “booksellers” who police the boundary between the mythic (Old World) and the modern (New World), her quest unravels a chain of events that not only unveils revelations about her father but also personal ones about the booksellers’ own. If anything, this is to be a very strange 18th birthday for her…
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is such a fast-paced, relentless story. The first chapter kickstarts the action almost immediately and it rarely lets up until the story’s conclusion. Nix manages to build a sinister atmosphere and real feeling of peril as the main characters get thrust to danger after danger, always finding themselves knee-deep in the next one by the time they have barely escaped one. This book just jumps straight into the action and explains later, if it even gets to at all.
The banter between the characters is a much welcome aspect in The Left-Handed Booksellers of London. The characters (Susan and the bookseller siblings Merlin, and Vivien) vibe well with each other to create an enthralling dynamic. There were just so many brain cells connecting with each other that I had no choice but to be hooked into following them. On the flip side, however, this came at the cost of a very dialogue and exposition heavy book. The never-ending flow of dialogue leaves little down-time to take a breather and explore any character’s thoughts or emotions. In fact, some emotional beats seem to heavily rely on being carried by dialogue.
The true star of this book is our newly-introduced heroine, Susan Arkshaw: she is the very embodiment of a reluctant hero, finding herself in too deep with something she doesn’t understand. I think the level of cluelessness and confusion she experiences in face of her latest predicament would be quite relatable. The struggle to keep up with the booksellers she experiences was palpable as she receives no foundation and quite sudden info-dumps, reflecting this book’s nature as very much an “in for the ride” read [I mean, I just know I’d totally go “huh?” every single time]. It isn’t, however, all there is to Susan. She is very level-headed and perceptive, given what little information she had to work with. While this contrasts the admittedly well-written heart-thumping chase and fight sequences, I found Susan’s collected yet quick-on-her-feet nature particularly fascinating to see. It was especially more rewarding to see her character development as truths about her mystery biological father intersect with the mythical world and compel her to take a more pro-active step to realising her identity, as well as how she wants to navigate it given its implications to both the Old World and the New. It was by all means her coming-of-age story, and oh how thrillingly weird it is.
Garth Nix’s The Left-Handed Booksellers of London presents a bloody, fast-paced, fun, (relatively) light fantasy romp coursing through the 1983’s folkloric London. The transition to the story may prove hectic with its heavy exposition and blood-splattered chaotic action scenes, and there may not be much book-selling per se in this book; but the twists and turns in Left-handed Booksellers will thrill readers enough to continue seeing this fun little journey through its conclusion.
Set in a familiar coming-of-age narrative filled to the brim with folkloric and mythological creatures carrying strenuous tension to the boundary between the myth and the modern, Garth Nix’s latest offering may appeal to fans of Rick Riordan’s best-selling Camp Half-Blood series looking for a smidge more blood in the action 😉😉😉😉
My many thanks to NetGalley, Orion Publishing Group, and Gollancz for providing an early e-ARC of this book for an honest review.