On the Bookshelf...

The Sinister Booksellers of Bath

Garth Nix

There is often trouble of a mythical sort in Bath. The booksellers who police the Old World keep a careful watch there, particularly on the entity who inhabits the ancient hot spring. Yet this time it is not from Sulis Minerva that trouble starts. It comes from the discovery of a sorcerous map, leading left-handed bookseller Merlin into great danger. A desperate rescue is attempted by his sister the right-handed bookseller Vivien and their friend, art student Susan Arkshaw, who is still struggling to deal with her own recently discovered magical heritage. The map takes the trio to a place separated from this world, maintained by deadly sorcery performed by an Ancient Sovereign, and guarded by monstrous living statues of Purbeck marble. But this is only the beginning, as the booksellers investigate centuries of disappearances and deaths and try to unravel the secrets of the murderous Lady of Stone, a serial killer of awesome powers. If they do not stop her, she will soon kill again. And this time, her target is not an ordinary mortal.

So Garth Nix has returned to the world of the Lefthanded Booksellers. The first of these books The Left Handed Booksellers of London was a real pleasure to read. The world he created was kind of funky, a sort of alternative 80's in which the aforementioned Booksellers try to stop the mystical world colliding with the mortal.

We're once more treated to the return of the two main protagonists from the last book. Susan, the product of the Old Man of Coniston and a mortal woman, and Merlin, a left-handed bookseller. This time we travel to one of the other bookshops in Bath for the opening scenes. Then its straight into the story.

I love this world. There's a familiarity to it that's comforting. In my opinion, fantasy works best when there's a root that we can cling to. Then you can add the fantastical side without having to consult a map, (although I do like a map) or reread where on earth we are. Susan is a good character who in this book grows in statue. Merlin is still the wonderful oddball he was in the first installment. The old mystical world is still as enchanting. The humour is still there in spadefuls.

The pace of the story is relentless. After plunging Merlin into mortal danger in the first few chapters, there is no let up, apart from the eating of many slabs of cake. The world building is excellent. The storyline not too convoluted and yet enough to keep you guessing. I've seen this described as YA fiction. The original book I bought was from the fantasy section. I'd label it a crossover book, can be read by all ages. Unless you have a nervous disposition 😉

I look forward to reading further books in this series. Hopefully, we'll visit some of the other bookshops that are mentioned in the story. Garth Nix is back and it's a great book.

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Review by
AJ Steel
March 24, 2023

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