The Left-Handed Booksellers Of London by Garth Nix (book review).

February 4, 2021 | By | Reply More

‘The Left-Handed Booksellers Of London’ is a standalone fantasy novel by Garth Nix.

Susan Arkshaw has just moved to London to start university and ,while waiting for her course to start, she decides to try and find her mysterious father. Along the way, she meets Merlin, one of the aforementioned left-handed booksellers, his right-handed bookseller sister Vivien and a lot of weird creatures. The weirdness starts when Merlin turns her ‘uncle’, possibly father, into dust using a silver hatpin and it doesn’t stop there.

We get to meet ancient booksellers, mythical creatures and along the way figure out who Susan’s father is and who killed Merlin and Vivien’s mother. All the while dodging the random scary beasts who suddenly seem to be on the hunt for Susan.

I love these kinds of books, the ones with magical portals from an ordinary 1980s London into scary worlds that seem to exist just alongside ours. But this isn’t just any ordinary 1980s London. No, this one is an alternative London where Margaret Thatcher is the second female prime minister after Clementine Attlee. There are plenty of other slightly strange elements that make this 1980s London a little different to ours but this is one of the more obvious and hilarious ones.

One of the interesting weird creatures in this world is the sipper. This is like a more traditional vampire but instead of drinking blood they merely sip it, far more elegant. This is one of the elements of world-building I loved from this book. The way that Nix manages to slip magical elements into a world that’s quite similar to ours is so wonderful. We have the booksellers themselves, of course, with their different powers depending on their handedness and their particular jobs. For example, if you’re a left-handed bookseller you tend to be more of the backroom staff in the bookshop, stacking shelves, etc. while also being field agents in the fight to stop the Old World (the magical realm) breaking into the New World (our world).

Then there are the right-handed booksellers who would be the ones behind the tills and helping people pick just the right book alongside being the more magical world-savers. So that’s left-handed strength and fighting, right-handed smarts and magic. Oh and, if you’re wondering how you tell the difference, just looking at a bookseller you can tell by which hand is either gloved or glowing silver.

There were some fabulous characters throughout this book like Mrs London, who runs one of the bookseller safehouses along with her cat. Then there are obviously brother and sister Vivien and Merlin. Of the two, I really enjoyed Merlin, his fashion-sense and need to dress for the occasion was hilarious. Merlin is currently experimenting with gender fluidity, apparently changing genders easily is something the booksellers have the ability to do.

This book is quite the whistle stop tour of 1980s nostalgia and pop culture, with that added twist, plus British myths, legends and beasts. It does seem like an odd mash-up but it seemed to work really well. If I’m honest, I often forgot that we were in the 1980s unless someone had to find a payphone because no-one had mobiles in those days. This does mean that although there is a good amount of world-building there doesn’t need to be too much as many of the things we’re encountering are known to us. This does mean that there is much more focus on plot with just enough world-building for it to be an interesting new place for us to explore.

Overall, this was a really entertaining and fast-paced book filled with interesting characters that I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Who wouldn’t want to read more about magical booksellers and their bookshops with portals to other realms?

Sarah Bruch

February 2020

The Left-Handed Booksellers Of London by Garth Nix

(pub: Gollancz, 2020. 393 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47322-776-7)

check out website: www.gollancz.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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