Garth Nix's YA Old Kingdon (Abhorsen) Trilogy, now 15-20 years old, is undoubtedly one of the greats of contemporary fantasy. It remains a must read for any who don't yet know it, and, I suspect, provides a periodic indulgent re-read for many who do. A couple of related shorter works aside, we waited a long time for a follow-up. However last year brought us the magnificent Clariel (see my post from August '15) which was actually a prequel to the original trilogy, set hundreds of years earlier. Now, at last we have a continuation of the story of Lirael in the recently released Goldenhand. And whilst the wait has been long, patience, or perhaps impatience, is now magnificently rewarded.
This is high fantasy of the very finest. Through the whole sequence Gareth Nix has built a stunningly rich, imaginative world of magic that is completely convincing in it own terms and hence totally absorbing. In Goldenhand he exploits what he has created to the full. There is one new major character, Ferin , the messenger girl from one of the tribes of the north, but largely this is a return to many characters introduced and developed through the original trilogy. In a sense, then, this new addition to the Old Kingdom sequence is not strikingly different or original. What is on offer in spades, however, is the most wonderful storytelling; gripping action with hugely interesting, rich characters, and some really jolting shocks. There is, too, enough romance to be endearing, without so much as to be cloying. Garth Nix's masterly construction and control of narrative is an object lesson to lesser writers. In the early parts he uses the technique of alternating story strands, which when as skilfully handled as this, is guaranteed to keep the pages turning. He builds and relieves tension and continually develops characters to always maintain absorption.
So many current YA fantasies are written rather pointedly for a teen girl audience. Despite the principal protagonists being female, this is of much broader appeal. True sword and sorcery in the best sense.
By the time of the story's truly riveting climax, the author has skilfully pulled together threads not only from this novel but from the whole sequence. It is as devastating as it is delightful; you gasp and tingle at one and the same time. Here are old 'friends' as well as endings, on many levels. By the close there are in fact few loose ends, so this feels like it could be the last of the sequence. On the one hand, this is hugely satisfying. On the other it is to be fervently hoped that this is not to be. This world is too special and, by this stage, too much a part of the reader to feel anything other than bereavement at the thought of losing it. At least there is always the option of starting to read it all again from the beginning.
This whole sequence is a rare example of what I consider a 'Lord-of-the-Rings-read'; one which feels something akin to that first experience of reading Tolkien, with its all-absorbing depth of engagement and enjoyment. Such quality of fantasy fiction is to be constantly yearned for, but very infrequently found. Thank goodness Garth Nix is around to give it to us.