I’ve talked about how much I like Garth Nix before, so it should come as no surprise that I eagerly awaited the release of Goldenhand, the latest in the Abhorsen series. I was so excited for it that I pre-ordered it and put some other books on hold while I read it. Of course, then life got in the way so I haven’t been able to post about it until now.
This return to the Old Kingdom takes up the threads of Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case, a short story in Garth Nix’s anthology, Across the Wall. Thus, it occurs about six months after Abhorsen and the battle with Orannis.
Lireal is now officially the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. So, when she receives a message about a free magic creature across the wall, she heads south to check it out. There, she reunites with Nicholas Sayre, who remains tainted by the fragment of Orannis that was inside him. Fearing the Free Magic within him will escape the Charter Mark that binds it, Lireal takes Nick to the Clayr’s Glacier.
Meanwhile, a young woman from the North carries a message for Lireal from her long-dead mother. It warns of the Witch With No Face, a great threat to the Old Kingdom. Once more, Lireal, Nick, and the rest of the Abhorsen’s family must face a dangerous enemy not only in life, but also in death.
Let’s get into it
I was happy return to the Old Kingdom. Clariel came out a few years back, but it was a prequel. It didn’t have any of my favourite characters in it. (It was still good, and I’d recommend reading it before Goldenhand.) Almost all the characters from the original trilogy are back in this installment, albeit not all to the same extent.
Part of the reason I enjoy this series so much is because of Nix’s world building. Thus, I was pleased to learn more about the Old Kingdom and its neighbors. The Athask and the other northern tribes were a particularly interesting addition. Ferin, a new member of the cast, comes from among these peoples. She continues Nix’s tradition of including strong ladies in his books. But unlike Sabriel or Lireal, Ferin doesn’t have the charter mark, nor does she belong to the Abhorsen bloodline. This makes her unique and adds a freshness to the story. She also acts as an outsider, which in turn shines light on the Old Kingdom and Charter magic. She even supplies some humour, which is welcome in a book that deals with evil and death.
The story itself builds on many of the plot points of the past novels. It answers questions that the end of Abhorsen may have left unresolved. This includes giving more information about Lireal’s mother and the intermingling of Free and Charter Magic within Nick. One of my favourite things about Goldenhand is how Lireal develops. The novel explores her reactions to life after binding Orannis. We get to see how she’s handles losing her hand, gaining a family, and becoming the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. Of course, she also deals with the loss of the Disreputable Dog. (If I’m any indication, readers will feel the Dog’s absence just as much as Lireal.) All this made it easy for me to fall back into Nix’s writing.
I read Goldenhand pretty quickly. Each time I had to put it down to go to work or get off the train I felt disappointed. I easily got caught up in the plot. However, I did notice a bit of oddness that came with returning to a beloved fictional universe. I read the first three books for the first time probably ten or more years ago and have read them all multiple times. As a result, I always think of them as a trilogy (despite the fact that Sabriel stands relatively alone compared to Lireal and Abhorsen). It’s a little hard to accept an all new plot when the characters have lived in my imagination for so long. Yet I still found the whole thing entertaining. The story stays true to the characters and allows them to continue to develop, which is all I could can ask for.
Final verdict: Goldenhand is a welcome addition to the Abhorsen series. It brings back a lot of the magic of the previous novels while also giving Nix fans something new, so it’s worth checking out.