The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix
Reviewed by Sam!
What I drank prior: i had a power hour with friends through zoom, but i drank wine instead and then hung out for another hour. I will say that i ordered drunk food in there somewhere which means that I’m less drunk than i was 30 min ago but here we are.
A girl’s quest to find her father leads her to an extended family of magical fighting booksellers who police the mythical Old World of England when it intrudes on the modern world. From the bestselling master of teen fantasy, Garth Nix.
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.
Drunk Overview: ok so let me see if i remember this. Susan is about to start university in London. She was raised by a single mom, but she wants to know who her dad is, so she goes to visit a distant uncle. While there, there are magical beings that come and murder her uncle with magic and there’s this crazy charismatic person named Merlin that comes to her rescue. Merlin and his sister are a part of an organization called the booksellers, and there are left hands and right hands. Lefts are the warriors, rights are the nerds. I think. ANYWAY it all seems to center around Susan and her quest to find here dad…
Spoiler-free Thoughts: let me just tell you, i love Garth Nix. His series are so nostalgic for me, especially Abhorsen, which I think goes for a lot of people. So when I saw he had a new fantasy book, I WAS HERE FOR IT. This was… fine. It wasn’t awful, but it absolutely wasn’t Abhorsen.
Characters: The characters are where this book shines. While I find the plot to be SO SLOW, I love all the characters. I thought Susan was just going to be the naive one that learns too slow and keeps fucking up. NO. She’s like… super resourceful but also has realistic feelings and makes choices that I think make sense for her character. Not always a normal thing for YA. Then there’s Vivien (yes apparently that’s the right spelling). She is Merlin’s sister and I’ll get to Merlin in a second, but she’s like… the voice of reason, but also the voice of tradition that is…. Tradition to the extent of detriment and not tradition? I know there’s like… an actual way to say that but I’m drunk and I can’t remember what that is right now. ANYWAY. I love her. And then…. There’s Merlin. MERLIN is incredible. He is bi, he cross dresses in whatever way he pleases, and he doesn’t give a flying fuck who cares. Especially in a book by an author who established himself in the early 2000s, it’s huge. There’s this scene where they’re going to Merlin’s room and V says to S… “beware” and then they walk in and there are rolling carts by rolling carts of fashion and they giggle about how long it takes him to pick an outfit I LOVE IT. In addition, they don’t make it a thing about the romance between Susan and Merlin. It’s not about sexuality it’s about that he’s a stranger and that’s just so normal and refreshing i can’t stand it.
Plot: ok…. So here’s where i struggle. There was a lot of potential here, and instead of using it, it seemed more like a Horse and His Boy situation where you just go from fairy tale to fairy tale and he’s just trying to fit all the lore into one story and only like 10% of it matters. When you get to the back third, then all the things matter, but the things that happen in the middle literally don’t matter to the end. Which is a shame. I’m sad that I’m happy this was only a stand alone because I love Nix so much that I’d read the next one, but I wouldn’t be happy about it.
Writing Style: I listened on audio and while I think the narrator did well, the source material wasn’t the most exciting… more of a snoozer.
World Building: the bookseller society is actually super cool and I like it a lot. I like the magic system and how folks are re initiated. The rest of the world is normal stereotypical stuff like “don’t eat anything in fae world.” So…. Meh all around.
What to pair it with: This is a port. It tastes good, but you can have one, and the middle bit is always a question of “oh gods, why did i start this in the first place?’
Rating: 2/5 shots
Until next time, we remain forever drunkenly yours,