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Review of Goldenhand on Goodreads
(Note: For an explanation of my Goodreads policy, please see here.)
Anyone who hasn’t read Sabriel, the beginning of the Old Kingdom books by Garth Nix, is missing out. I consider reading it, during the years I was trying to break in, to be one of the fundamental experiences that helped me shape my philosophy on magic systems and worldbuilding.
Needless to say, I love the magic and worldbuilding of these books—though perhaps someday I’ll do a review of Sabriel itself, and delve into what I love about the worldbuilding in these books. This review is about Goldenhand, a later installment (book five, I believe, though one of those is a prequel) in the series. I found it to be an excellent continuation.
I’m impressed that Mr. Nix has kept my attention and excitement for the series over all these years, doling out new volumes carefully and expanding the magic system at a controlled rate. (And introducing new characters to become the new viewpoints as others close their arcs.) I feel he’s added good flourishes here and there to give the magic depth, but never let it spiral away from him, as was the potential at any given point.
One highlight for me in this book involved Mr. Nix’s continued ability to introduce compelling characters with a variety of backgrounds. Pay attention to how he gives strong, but different, motives to the primary players—and how he quickly establishes those motives and keeps them central to each character’s through line.
I also admire his ability to write a young adult series that is firmly secondary world fantasy, with challenging worldbuilding and politics, while still keeping the narrative focused on younger characters, maintaining the feel that this is correctly shelved in teen. I think the character motivations, the sense that these are people still searching for their exact place in the world, is part of what makes this work.
Finally, I would suggest a study of Mr. Nix’s pacing methods. Sabriel was the first fantasy novel I can remember that used a more intense, “thriller style” method of pacing. (I see this in the works of Jim Butcher and Brent Weeks as well.)
Notice how Mr. Nix writes this book to encompass a relatively short period of time, with constant motion and action. He uses frequent cuts between viewpoints to deemphasize downtime, increase tension, and propel the story. He also consistently employs small chapter-end hooks that are frequently resolved in the early pages of the next chapter, using them to bridge chapter (and character) breaks. I’m not always a fan of this style of cliffhanger, as it can wear thin by the end of a book, but they work very well with the format and structure of this book.
The Short Version
Here’s what I sent the publisher as a blurb for the book. “Garth Nix is one of the best worldbuilders in fantasy, and this book is merely further proof. I love the Old Kingdom series, and Goldenhand is an excellent continuation, packed with the excitement and passion of a storytelling virtuoso at the height of his abilities.”
Highly recommended for anyone. Sabriel, the first in the series, is one of my go-to suggestions, as I feel it does a large number of things very well, and has a broad appeal for a wide variety of readers.