Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: September 22nd, 2020 (Katherine Tegen Books)
Synopsis: 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.
Thank you to the publisher, Harper Collins, and Edelweiss for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Aspiring art student Susan Arkshaw arrives in London to search for the father she has never known, and falls headlong into a world of myth and monsters when she witnesses Merlin St. Jacques use a silver hatpin to turn Frank Thringley (who she calls Uncle, but is apparently a crime boss and a sipper) to dust. One escape from a dangerous black fog and an attack by a warden, it becomes clear that Susan is a target for some reason – and that has something to do with who her father is. The booksellers, the ancient organization to which Merlin belongs, are tasked with policing the boundaries between the Old World and the modern, but incursions are now increasing to an alarming extent. Merlin himself, however, is investigating the circumstances behind his mother’s death, certain that the someone in the Old World instigated it. When it quickly becomes clear that these two mysteries are linked, they team up to follow the path of a long closed police investigation while trying to figure out how Susan’s past ties into all of it.
Garth Nix has been one of my favourite authors ever since I started reading the Old Kingdom series way back in middle school. After last year’s fantastic Angel Mage, I was quite eager to see what the author has come up with next. This is an interesting combination, certainly – part mystery, part fantasy and part crime solving. The booksellers are best described as a society of secret agents who watch the Old World and keep the various creatures out of myth from intruding into the modern world. The rest of the time, they’re casually working in one of their bookshops and going about life as normal. I really enjoyed the concept behind the booksellers and the world building surrounding all of the Old World. As with some other books I’ve noticed however, the fantasy elements are so attention grabbing that the semi-historical setting of 1983 London, largely loses its effect apart from period accurate references and fashions.
The entire book basically revolves around the question of who Susan is, and what about her has all the factions so riled up. Susan was a character that I didn’t like much initially, mainly because of how unfazed she was by everything happening around her. She accepts the existence of a whole other world with rather unrealistic calm, but she grew on me eventually as she turned into quite the strong and complex heroine. Merlin and Vivien were equally interesting characters, but I would have liked to see more backstory for both of them, which largely got left behind in the race for action scenes and plot advancement.
Patience, however, was yet again the name of the game with this book for me. Although it seems to jump right into things, the narration is exceedingly long winded. It was quite annoying to find that after nearly two hours of uninterrupted reading, I was only 40% of the way through and things had yet to take off. It really did not need to be this long and such in depth descriptions were not necessary. Things did eventually pick up though, and managed to tie up the story quite nicely in the end. I was quite surprised at that actually, since I thought that it was definitely headed into sequel territory.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is not really typical YA, being such a mishmash of so many themes. Personally, I felt that both YA and adult readers could enjoy this. Overall, this was another interesting and very British offering from Garth Nix and while not my favourite from this author, still worth a read, and I would definitely recommend it.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London releases on September 22nd, 2020.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!