Thursday, 23 September 2010
Review: Across the Wall by Garth Nix
Seeing as this is an anthology of short stories, I'll say a few sentences about each.
This will have to be quick because it's late and I have a bad cold, so need sleep.
Summary (from Goodreads): Nicholas Sayre will do anything to get across the Wall. Thoughts of Lirael and Sam haunt his dreams, and he has come to realize that his destiny lies with them, in the Old Kingdom. But here in Ancelstierre, Nick faces an obstacle that is not entirely human, with a strange power that seems to come from Nicholas himself.
With "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case," Garth Nix continues to explore the magical world of the Abhorsen Trilogy. In additional short stories that range from two widely different takes on the Merlin myth to a gritty urban version of Hansel and Gretel and a heartbreaking story of children and war, Garth Nix displays the range and versatility that has made him one of today's leading writers of fantasy for readers of all ages.
Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case- is an excellent opening, and, really, you know it's the reason you bought this book. Although Nick plays a pretty significant role in Abhorsen, the third book of the Old Kingdom Trilogy, he remains a little vague, and it's interesting to come back to him and see the world through his eyes. It's mostly continuous action and other such exciting things, with Nick this time not seeming so weak and greedy and spineless so much as a likeable protagonist you find yourself rooting as he chases after the Creature in the Case and tries to save the old kingdom.
Under the Lake- when I first read this story (a couple of years ago) I hadn't read any Arthurian legends so I didn't really *get* it. Having read a little more Arthurian-ness since then, it seems like a fitting piece for the genre, yet I'm not big on Arthurian-type things, really (if only because my little sister kept making me watch the TV programme Merlin, which I dislike very much).
Charlie Rabbit- I first read this when it was published in the anthology Kid's Night In. It's quite harrowing in the fact that the two main characters are children facing possible death, and the effects and reality of war. However, there's hope and joy at the end, which prevents it from being too dark.
From the Lighthouse- was a strange, darkly humorous little story, with a strange otherworldly setting and the power of teamwork bringing communities together and whatnot, without being overly preachy.
The Hill -is simplistic and probably the most child-friendly story in the book (while others are more definitely teenage pieces of fiction). It's not necessarily boring, though.
Lighting Bringer- I'm not quite sure what to make of this story, dear blog. I mean, as well as having your typical Nix-esque fantasty element, romance is one of the key elements (it was first published in the anthology Love and Sex). It seems a little under-developed and rushed, like, "oh, that was it?" The idea is nice, but the story itself falls short. Still, few stories combine the science of weather with fantasy/magic powers, and having built on various ideas of fact, Garth Nix turns it into fiction. The intro is probably the most interesting in the book.
Down to the Scum Quarter-is the oldest piece in the book, and is in short just a hilarious mockery of those "choose-your-own-adventure" books, and it even says in the intro, "decide whether you're going to cheat or not. Most people cheat in solo adventures, even if they don't admit it." Inspired by The Three Musketeers, it's a great opportunity to don your cape and grab your rapier, and rescue your beloved. It holds many laughs, and is a nice change from the norm.
Heart's Desire- another Arthurian tale, this time about the strange relationship between Merlin and Nimue, and despite the fact that Garth Nix normally stays away from folklore and such, it's in his typical fantasy style.
Hansel's Eyes- a gritty urban retelling of the Hansel & Gretel story, in which the brother and sister are drugged with Chloroform and abandoned on the deserted side of town. In this version they're both resourceful, and Gretel in particular doesn't seem like such a weak and simpering little child. Okay, I know she kicks major witch butt at the end of the fairy tale, but for much of the rest of the story she's all 2-dimensional.
Hope Chest - is an epic historical-western-scifi sort of short story, and at 40 pages or so the longest story in the book after Nicholas Sayre. The historical and western elements of the book are a little surprising, because Garth Nix doesn't normally include these things in his novels. The blend of western-meets-scifi is quite bizarre and "what?!", but it works (look out for the awesome shooting scene in the train).
My Really New Epic Fantasy Series -is another parody, originally a spoken-word piece that mocks all the clichés of fantasy writing. Like Down to the Scum Quarter, it's interesting to see this side of Garth Nix that you didn't even know he posessed in the Old Kingdom trilogy.
Three Roses- is a totally delightful and hopelessly romantic little fairy-tale. It makes me feel smushy whenever I read it, and all, "aaaaw". It's an utterly charming story.
Endings - is one of those stories which seems a little confusing at first, but the more you read it the more the mysteriousness reveals itself, answerig one set of questions and then leaving the reader to ponder another set, leading on from the first. It's not even five full pages (at least in my paperback edition), but there's definitely a novel in it somewhere. At least I think there is the potential to be. The writing style fits the mysterious narrator, which seems calm and emotionless.
Overall: It's an interesting mix of short stories, of all shapes and sizes. Each story has a little intro, and though now and again it's a little self-indulgent, it gives background to the stories and explains some of them a little.
In Three Words: a mixed bag.
Reccomended for: all fans of Garth Nix.