If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced light fantasy novel suitable for both YA and adult readers, I happily recommend Garth Nix’s latest novel The Left-Handed Booksellers of London.
I received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books via NetGalley; all opinions are my own. This post contains some affiliate links that may earn me a commission if you purchase through them.The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix
Published by Allen & Unwin on September 29, 2020
Buy on Amazon
Buy from your local independent bookstore via Bookshop.org
A girl’s quest to find her father leads her to an extended family of magical fighting booksellers who police the mythical Old World of England when it intrudes on the modern world. From the bestselling master of teen fantasy, Garth Nix.
In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.
Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.
Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelled surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.
Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.
What I Loved About The Left-Handed Booksellers of London
I love books ABOUT books. I also love Garth Nix’s writing, so of course, the combination of the two caught my eye.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London held up to most of my expectations. Nix wasted no time launching us into the plot. Susan, our protagonist, finds herself in the midst of the action just pages in, although the why takes a bit longer to unravel.
This story is fun, fast-paced, and big on fantasy creatures, action. It also has a likable cast of characters, including the quirky, over the top, and (possibly) gender-fluid Merlin (I was never quite certain) and Merlin’s more level-headed, strong sister Vivien. This book has everything! For starters, there are gun-slinging, sword-swinging left-handed booksellers and magical and clever right-handed booksellers. For spooky factor, there’s reanimated corpses, spectral dogs and grandmothers, mythical wolves, and mischievous and nasty urchins to name a few. All in all, this book has a whole cast of fascinating characters.
This is a very plot-driven novel with excellent world-building. The characters jump rapidly from one dangerous situation into another. In the first half of the novel, bit by bit and danger by danger, the world of the booksellers is revealed to Susan. Including, of course, how the layers of the different worlds interact:
“Children’s writers,” said Merlin. “Dangerous bunch. They cause us a lot of trouble.”Garth Nix, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London
“How?” asked Susan.
“They don’t do it on purpose,” said Merlin. He opened the door. “But quite often they discover the key to raise some ancient myth, or release something that should have stayed imprisoned, and they share that knowledge via their writing. Stories aren’t always merely stories, you know.”
I have to admit, this whole idea delighted me, as does the idea of the known world overlaying the “Old World”, with only a thin veil separating the two. Susan takes all of the weirdness remarkably well, particularly as she begins to realize that her father (whose identity she came to London to discover) figures into the booksellers’ world.
While this looks to be classified as Teens and YA, it easily crosses over into adult reading. (In all honestly, I couldn’t tell from the reading whether it was YA or not!) While I spent the latter half of the book fearing that this would be the first of a series, Nix wraps up everything neatly in the end, tying together both Merlin’s questions about his mother’s death and Susan’s search for her father. While this looks to be a stand-alone novel, I still hope to see more of Susan, Merlin and Vivien in the bookseller’s world.
What I Wanted
While I loved these characters, I would have liked more character development, particularly for Merlin and Vivien (backstories and the story of their mother). There’s so much action that I’m not seeing Nix’s usual detail to his characters. I suppose that’s why I’d love to see more books about Susan and the booksellers!
I thoroughly enjoyed The Left-Handed Booksellers of London. It was a fast-paced, engaging, and delightful light fantasy read, perfect for YA readers of all ages. I’m giving this 4.5 stars (rounding up to five for Goodreads and bookseller reviews.)