Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London
Author: Garth Nix
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020
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As Garth Nix prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of his popular Old Kingdom series next year, his latest book also offers some nostalgic touchstones.
The 1983 UK depicted in The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is a slight variant of the one in the history books, as flagged by subtle touches such as the all-female leads of the TV show The Professionals. And then there’s the magic, of course, firmly grounded in the tradition of the likes of Alan Garner and Susan Cooper.
By centring his action in a secret cabal of magicians operating from London bookstores, Nix – at one time himself a bookseller – gives himself room to dip the hat to writers seminal and popular. He also gets to have a lot of fun.
The booksellers, whose magical inclinations are indicated by their handedness, operate as a kind of CI5 for the magical realm, keeping a lid on the folkloric, mythical and magical creatures and societies who interrupt the mundane workings of the human world.
Watch an interview with Garth Nix about The Left-Handed Booksellers of LondonWITH DODD AND SUMNER AT FORBIDDEN PLANET TV
The story starts with a bang, when Susan is exposed to left-handed bookseller Merlin, whose personal quest intersects with her attempt to find her mysterious father.
Nix keeps the action coming as the pair are joined by Merlin’s (right-handed) sister Vivien in an ever-deepening plot that draws in the conventional authorities as well as the resources of the booksellers. Spells and swords, machineguns and helicopters are deployed as the stakes – and the body count – continue to rise.
Nix manages the action well, manoeuvring his engaging characters without contrivance and allowing enough downtime for breaths to be drawn and romance to stir. Their world makes sense, too, with a consistent and understandable magic system, and the relationship between the booksellers’ Old World and the mundane authorities of the New World in logical balance.
With the re-release of Sabriel and its follow-ups to court a new generation of fans, the booksellers’ tale is a reminder of why Nix is one of Australia’s most successful writers, and a fine addition to his bibliography. One can only hope this is but the first chapter in the booksellers’ adventures.
Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung, November 2020
Jason Nahrung is Ballarat Writers’ publicity officer