The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix
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 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 misspelt 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.
It has been many years since I have read a Garth Nix book but when I saw this I was intrigued and had to buy it. I am so glad I did and I have also bought the sequel.
I basically read this book in one day as I just couldn’t put it down and it is by far my favourite read of 2023 so far. The book is set in 1983 but not quite the 1983 we all know there are some differences. The book centres around Susan Arkshaw a girl who just wants to find out who her father is and to study art after the Summer holidays.
On her quest to find her father Susan meets Merlin. Merlin is clearly an interesting character who has a fantastic dress sense and who also has some special skills that Susan has not seen before. By meeting Merlin Susan is thrown into the world of the booksellers. The booksellers come in three categories, they are either left handed like Merlin which means they are warriors with superior strength and speed, right handed who are more studious and use magic and then there are the even handed booksellers who are clearly very powerful but we don’t get to find out the full extent of their abilities.
As Susan, Merlin and Vivien start to work out what is going on we soon learn that Susan’s and the booksellers’ quests overlap in more ways than they originally thought. This leads to one adventure after another.
I love the idea of the booksellers hiding behind their bookshops and books so nobody knows their true identities and abilities. Their network is huge and the police have a special unit to work with the booksellers. It would appear the booksellers have power over everyone but they have to have many fingers in many pies to keep everyone safe from the Old World.
I loved this book! My favourite character is by far Merlin who is eccentric and a laugh a minute but at the same time caring and protective. I will be starting the next book in the series straight away and I will definitely be catching up on my Garth Nix reading. I give this book a massive 5 out of 5 Dragons.
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About the author
Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia, to the sound of the Salvation Army band outside playing ‘Hail the Conquering Hero Comes’ or possibly ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. Garth left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra (the federal capital) and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin with a boot full of books and a Silver-Reed typewriter.
Despite a wheel literally falling off the Austin, Garth survived to return to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After finishing his degree in 1986 he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher’s sales representative, and editor. Along the way he was also a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve, serving in an Assault Pioneer platoon for four years. Garth left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, till he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002 Garth went back to dedicated writer again, despite his belief that full-time writing explains the strange behaviour of many authors.
He now lives in Sydney with his wife, two sons and lots of books.