First, is this a worthy successor to the original Abhorsen trilogy (which is one of my favorite fantasy series)? Yes. Is it everything I wanted from a sequel? No. Did I even know what I wanted from it? Weeeeelll, yes and no. Is it a perfect book? No. Ultimately, does it matter that it isn’t perfect? No.
So there you go. If you, like me, love the original series, and you have been worried about this book, you may now proceed to reading or not reading it accordingly. For further helpful information and slight spoilers, and some not-so-slight spoilers as well (which I will of course spoiler tag, because I’m not an asshole), see below.
Goldenhand picks up about eight months after the events of Abhorsen. Lirael is officially the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and lives with her half-sister Sabriel’s family in the capital city of the Old Kingdom, Belisaere. Her nephew Sam has crafted for her a golden hand made from Charter magic to replace the one she lost in the binding of Orannis, but she is still deeply feeling the loss of her friend the Disreputable Dog, and the one person she feels can really understand her, Nicholas Sayre, is living in Ancelstierre. Nick decided not to travel to the Old Kingdom after the events of Abhorsen despite invitations from Sabriel and Sam.
The events of Goldenhand actually dovetail with the events of the novelette “The Creature in the Case” that Nix wrote several years ago (you can find it in his short story collection Across the Wall). That story is told from Nick’s POV, and ends with Nick meeting Lirael again, which happens about sixty pages into Goldenhand. (If you’ve read that story, and you should because it’s an effective piece of fantasy horror, it’s fun to contrast Nick’s feeling on the events with Lirael’s. For him, seeing her again is the end of one story, but the beginning of another. It’s a very hopeful ending. For Lirael, seeing Nick again is just the start of things she’ll need to deal with by the end of the book.)
And now for some spoilers. If you read Clariel last year and it puzzled you as much as it puzzled me, it might make sense for you to know that this book is all about SPOILERS finally defeating Chlorr of the Mask, aka Clariel, the lost Abhorsen. She was presumed dead after Abhorsen, but it turns out only her physical body was destroyed, and she’s causing major trouble up north. I was puzzled by Clariel because it was purportedly the story of how Clariel became Chlorr, but it didn’t turn out to be that at all. That book felt like it was trying to be too many things, and didn’t succeed at any of them. It wanted her to be a hero, but it also wanted her to be a villain, or rather, an eventual villain. It stopped just short of the interesting stuff. It makes sense now that Clariel was on Nix’s mind, though, since the real end of her story is featured in this book, and it’s more resonant if you’ve read Clariel. This book doesn’t do much legwork making Clariel/Chlorr much of a three-dimensional character; her characterization here is actually pretty shallow if you’ve just read the main series and this one END SPOILERS.
As mentioned above, this book was not a perfect reading experience. The first half is much stronger than the second. It alternates chapters between two storylines, one following Lirael (and Nick), and one following the new character Ferin, a messenger on the run from the northern tribes with a very important message to deliver to Clariel from her long-dead mother, Arielle. The shifting POVs in the beginning of the story are very effective, pushing the story along and giving the story an urgency that makes you turn the pages as fast as you can. But then (view spoiler) The end also felt very rushed. I never really felt the danger and the stakes as I should have, the way I did in the first half. Especially since Nix is best when he’s in the nitty gritty details of his world, and all that rushing through takes away from those details. As mentioned above, I don’t think the story quite did justice to its villain/tragic character Clariel/Chlorr. There was also this weird and convenient pairing up of characters romantically, like Nix just couldn’t end his story without giving everyone their HEA. Which isn’t usually his style, so maybe that’s why it rang false to me.
Despite those flaws, there are many things to love about this book. It was nice to get resolution on Lirael and Nick’s burgeoning feelings. I love stories about two lonely people finding each other. It also tied up loose thematic ends from the first three books on several fronts, including Lirael returning home to the Glacier for the first time and realizing how she’s changed, not to mention Chlorr’s story, which I liked even as I wanted more of it. The terror of this world that Nix has created was also back in full force here, and that feeling I loved from the original books that was almost entirely missing in Clariel was also back. This feels like an Old Kingdom book again. It also reads ridiculously fast, which is always a good sign. Not to mention all the new elements he added to his world, visiting the territories above the Clayr’s glacier, Chlorr’s machinations with the tribes, and the tribes themselves. Ferin was a fierce character who I’d like to see more of. Nick’s story, and the fallout from his having been a bearer of a shard of Orannis in the original trilogy, is really neat and imaginative as well. A great way for that character to leave this story.
Bottom line, I still want more story from this world. Or rather, I wanted more from this particularl story (I’m not sure further books are necessary). It could have had at least 100 more pages, easy. Sometimes it’s good to tell stories economically, but sometimes you gotta indulge. I wanted more indulging here, more lingering. Especially if this is the last story we’re gonna get with these guys.
All in all, though, a success that let me live in the world of one of my favorite stories once again for a little while, if not one for the favorites shelf.