I really had a good time with this one. I didn’t realize it was YA going in, but while it did lean into YA sensibilities at points, mostly it just felt like a kooky magical adventure story. It was very hard to put down, and I found myself constantly wondering what would happen next, which doesn’t really happen all that often to me anymore because I read so much (usually for me these days I vacillate between “I pretty much know what’s coming” because I’m reading in a genre whose conventions I’m very familiar with, or “I need to spoil myself RIGHT NOW so I know what’s going to happen before it happens because this book is making me ANXIOUS AS HELL”). Here, I was just along for the ride and it was really fun.
I’ve loved Garth Nix since I was in middle school and read the Abhorsen trilogy, and because one of the strengths of that series is the worldbuilding, I should have guessed I’d be in for good time with this one in the same respect. Honestly, I didn’t know anything about this book besides the title before going in. The title sold it. I’d recommend that route if you’re comfortable with it, but if you’re not . . .
This book takes place in an alternate history England in 1983. Our main character is Susan, who has just turned eighteen, and wants to spend her last summer before heading off to University working in London and searching for her father, who she has never met. Pretty much immediately she’s drawn into an underground secret world of magic involving right- and left-handed booksellers, whose job it is to keep control of the layers of magic in London: Old World things stay in the Old World, New World things in the New. Our other two main characters, siblings Vivien and Merlin, get wrapped up in Susan’s search for her father, because they believe it ties in to the murder of their mother. Merlin in particular cuts a dashing swathe through the book, as he romances Susan with his kindness and charm whilst wielding a sword and wearing a dress, because why not, he looks really good in it.
If you’d just like a little escape with fun details and atmospheric adventure, this might be a good one. I wouldn’t say no to a sequel, but it doesn’t need one.