Nov 19, 2008

Across the Wall by Garth Nix

Across the Wall collects one novella and twelve short stories by Old Kingdom trilogy author Garth Nix. The novella, “Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case”, is set in the same world as his Old Kingdom books, and takes place some time after the events of Abhorsen. The protagonist is of course Nicholas Sayre, but one of my favourite characters from the trilogy, Lirael, does make an appearance.

“Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case” is a dark and satisfying tale, but it does require knowledge of the rest of the series to be properly enjoyed. And I can’t help but feel that I would have enjoyed it more myself if I had read it longer ago. There was a lot about the series that I had forgotten, and this made me feel a little lost at first. You've probably noticed that I’m avoiding a plot summary, and the reason for this is the fact that I want to avoid spoiling Abhorsen for anyone. So let me just say that the ending of this story leaves room for more, which makes sense considering that Garth Nix has announced two more Old Kingdom books to be released in the next few years. I’m quite excited about those, but I’ll make sure I re-read the original trilogy before I get to them.

The way Across the Wall is structured is quite interesting. We have a general preface, an introduction to each story, and a FAQ at the end of the book. In all of these, Garth Nix talks about writing and creativity, and I loved reading what he had to say. I think it’s in the preface that he says that most readers will probably be surprised to find some humorous tales in the book, since most of his stories tend to be dark. This was certainly the case with me. There were two stories in particular that were really funny, and although this was a side of Garth Nix I hadn't been exposed to before, they ended up being among my favourites.

“Down to the Scum Quarter” is a hilarious parody of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. My brother had a whole shelf of those, and when I was little I’d often borrow them. I always cheated, of course, and I suspect almost everyone else did as well. Garth Nix’s parody acknowledges this fact. This story made me laugh out loud, and it brought some nice memories back.

Another funny one is “My New Really Epic Fantasy Series”, which, as the title indicates, pokes fun at some of the genre’s pitfalls, in a style that reminded me a little of Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. In the introduction, he says that the story began as a comedy act that he presented at the 1999 Worldcon in Melbourbe. I wish I had seen it!

In a completely different style, we have “Three Roses”, a beautiful fairy tale about a man who grieves for his wife, and also about a greedy king. Another two favourites were “Under the Lake” and “Heart’s Desire”, two Arthurian retellings. The first reimagines the Lady of the Lake, while the second revolves around Merlin’s relationship with Nimue. In the introduction to the first story, Garth Nix says that he often thinks that he’s not a fan of Arthurian retellings, but there are in fact many he enjoys, like The Once and Future King, some of Mary Stewart’s books and The Dark is Rising Sequence. What he doesn’t like are retellings that add absolutely nothing new to a story that has been told countless times, and I have to agree. These two stories completely avoid that, which is why I enjoyed them so much.

These are only a few highlights. I honestly enjoyed every one of the stories in Across the Wall. I really have to find time to revisit the Old Kingdom books, as well as start his Keys to the Kingdom series.

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  1. I really need to try his books! The only thing I've ever read by him is a short story, Hansel's Eyes. It was probably my favorite of all the tales in A Wolf at the Door. And I know Annie loves his Keys to the Kingdom series. I've often thought of trying the Abhorsen trilogy, but I think their size keeps me from taking the plunge. I know, I know, totally dumb reason.

  2. Oh, this sounds good! I haven't read any Nix in a long time, but I really loved his books about Lirael. I'm glad to here there's more coming, too!

  3. I really must get to his Keys of the Kingdom series too. I keep meaning to. Plus I should pick this book of short stories up from the library - I had no idea it was so good. A bit stupid really as I adored the Abhorsen trilogy.

  4. wow, this book does sound good. I like reading short stories.
    You always review the most unique books.

  5. Well, this sounds different, in a good way. I'm especially interested in the choose your own adventure parody.

  6. Garth Nix has been on my list for years but I've never managed to get around to reading one of his books.

  7. These stories were about half and half hit-or-miss for me... they're a weird mix of really dark and really funny - enough that I'd be crying at one story (particularly Charlie Rabbit) and falling out of my chair laughing the next. Definitely made me interested in reading more of Nix's work beyond the Abhorsen trilogy, though.

  8. I really must give Garth Nix a try one day. I kept seeing the name on and off. Great review too and although I'm not into short stories, I noticed I have started to collect them...

  9. I haven't read any of his books... but I've read some good reviews about his books so I'll give it a try. ;)

  10. I've yet to read any Garth Nix books but I do have the Abhorsen trilogy in my tbr pile! I doubt I will get to it until "next year" (that sounds horrible, can't believe "next year" is almost here!)

  11. Ha ha, I'd forgotten about the Choose Your Own Adventure books! I liked those when I was a kid! I've never read anything by Garth Nix, any ideas for what to start with?

  12. For some reason I still haven't read this, considering I read the series ages ago when it first came out. I might need to reread the series first now! Thanks for the positive review!

  13. One of these days I'm going to have to read the Old Kingdom trilogy. I have the 3 books here, but there they sit waiting and waiting...

  14. I had no idea that there are 2 more old kingdom books coming out!! I'm so excited. It's a series that I was extremely sad to see end. In fact, I still haven't read this one because I wanted to savour it...but it's sitting on my shelf. I guess I can read it now! lol. I've been wanting to read the Keys to the Kingdom series too....sounds pretty good!

  15. hey.. tagged you for a meme! check out my blog!:)

  16. More Old Kingdom books??? I'll be looking forward to that. I have read this one, and I enjoyed the novella although honestly it made me wish for a longer story that takes place in the actual old kingdom, not in Ancelstierre.

  17. Debi, not a dumb reason at all. Reading a long book is a big commitment, let alone a whole trilogy of long books! Size has made me put off reading a certain book several times. A good thing about these is that even though they're a series, Sabriel works perfectly as a standalone. So you can pick up that one knowing there'll be no cliffhanger ending making you read the next book immediately!

    Jeane, so am I! He really is an excellent author.

    Cath, this one, particularly the novella, wasn't quite as good as the trilogy. But it was still really good!

    Naida: Hope you enjoy these! I've been getting into short stories more and more myself. Until a few years ago, I rarely ever read them, but these days I really enjoy them.

    Dewey: That was a lot of fun :D

    Ladytink: Sabriel would be a great starting place, I think.

    Fyrefly: I cannot believe I forgot to mention Charlie Rabbit in my post! Loved that one. You're right, though - sometimes quite an emotional jump was necessary from one story to the next.

    Alice: that's how I used to feel about short stories, but these days I really enjoy them!

  18. Melody, I really like his stuff. I hope you do too!

    Deslily, I really can't wait to see what you think of the trilogy! And yes, "next year" is just around the corner...eek.

    Joanna, they were fun, weren't they? And I'd recommend Sabriel as a starting place.

    Mariel: I think that if you do re-read the series first, you'll enjoy the novella more.

    tanabata: I have many books suffering the same fate :P

    Chris, isn't it exciting? And lol, I understanding wanting to leave something from that world unexplored, to savour someday. But now that you know there'll be more there's no reason to save it!

    Ramya, thanks again for thinking of me :)

    Lucky: Same here, actually. But as I knew about the upcoming books, I wasn't frustrated that we didn't actually get to revisit the Old Kingdom. Anyway, more details here.

  19. I've never read this series, I should probably start as everyone says it's great!
    If you enjoy fantasy parodies I recommend Blart by Dominic Barker. It's really hilarious!

  20. I haven't read a book by Nix yet. Must remedy that somehow. And this one is probably a good place to start.

    I liked reading Choose Your Own Adventure books way, way back! It was a fun experience being stumped in the middle of a bad ending after choosing a matchstick over something else, something that looks less helpful than a matchstick :)

  21. I am working my way through the Keys to the Kingdom series at the moment. When I finish it I am definitely planning to read some of his other works!

  22. Valentina, thanks for the recommendation!

    Lightheaded: I'd recommend starting here for the short stories, but not for the novella. Not only because it's not as enjoyable if you haven't read the series, but because it'll spoil the ending of the third book. And lol, I remember things like that.

    Marg: I have Mister Monday waiting for me on the shelf. Hopefully next year!

  23. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much as it is on my list for next year. I loved the Sabriel books and am looking forward to reading the associated short stories. It will also be fun to read some of Nix's other stories. I will probably get around to the Mister Monday books at some point.

  24. Ha! This one was on my list already! (Good thing - your blog is a dangerous place, especially when I'm behind and adding them one by one as I catch up on your reviews!) :-)


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