Review: The Left-handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

Garth Nix has a neat way of creating fantasy stories that have a reassuring familiarity that nonetheless introduce novel or unusual aspects. With The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, plunges us into a slightly-alternative-universe version of 1980s London where the policing of the borders between the mundane and the mythic lies in the various hands of a clan of booksellers.

The conceit of the Torchwood/Laundry/Men-in-Black/Ministry-of-Magic type organisation operating in the mundane world as booksellers, allows the story to quite overtly name check the stories he wants to evoke. So expect overt nods to Alan Garner, Diana Wynn-Jones and JRR Tolkien but also plot nods to things like the Chronicles of Prydain. The early 80’s setting means we also get elements of The Sweeney and The Professionals (with some alt-universe twists).

Susan Arkshaw has come to live in London to attend art school but has a second agenda: discover the identity of her father. Rapidly, she finds herself encountering firstly a world of organised crime and then a world of magical beings, as her investigations stir up interest of multiple entities. And where London is a city of both shifty and colourful characters, it is also a city where the boundaries between criminals and law enforcement isn’t always clear.

Enter the mysterious Booksellers. Recognised by charter since the time of Elizabeth I, the Booksellers have been granted the job of patrolling the shaky boundaries of the mythic elements of Britain. With an uneasy relationship with Special Branch, the Booksellers divide themselves as right-handed agents in their headquarters (centred around a rambling Foyles-like bookshop on Charing Cross road) and left-handed field agents.

The story arc contains few surprises and plenty of twists, as sinister plots are revealed and Susan learns more about her true identity than she may have wanted. It is a fun and exciting package and delivers on most of its promises.

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