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Allen & Unwin (2012)
ISBN: 978 1 74175 861 0
Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce
Khemri, our narrator, tells us straight up that he has died three times, and that this is the story of those deaths “and my life between.” It’s also made clear that although he is called a Prince, he hasn’t been born into a royal family but, rather, effectively kidnapped – requisitioned might be a better term. The story is that of Khemri learning that much of what he knows about being a Prince is wrong, or at least wrong-headed. He learns this while avoiding being killed – usually not because of his own wits – and while gradually coming to terms with the realities of the Empire. He has a wise, enigmatic Master of Assassins by his side (and the novel includes a bonus short story that gives just a little more insight into Haddad’s character), and while he does die a few times the first time isn’t until he’s actually learnt some things, which is a plus.
The overall story is fairly enjoyable. The twists and turns in Khemri learning how the Empire actually works, as opposed to how he has been taught that it does, is generally well played, although not especially original; there were only a couple of times I was genuinely surprised. I enjoyed the idea of the Princes all vying to be the next Emperor and how that might play out when there are ten million of them, mostly bloodthirsty or at the very least ruthless. And the worldbuilding was particularly interesting.
Troubletwisters, book 1
Allen & Unwin (2011)
Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce
I am a long-time fan of both Garth Nix and Sean Williams (more so the latter’s SF than fantasy), so the idea of a collaboration between the two – aimed at children – is exciting indeed. And I was fortunate enough to hear Sean Williams speak about the act of collaboration at Natcon Fifty, where he discussed the different aspects that each brought to the writing.
Troubletwisters harks very strongly to the classics of fantasy written for younger readers. The main characters are twins: Jaide and Jack. (In talking about the story, Williams admitted that he has long been intrigued by twins and their use in fiction. As I see it, it’s almost like you’re getting a character for free – and it means that you always have the opportunity for your characters to discuss things, disagree about things, or be worried about someone.) Their father is away a lot, and they know nothing about his side of the family … until a disaster means that they have to go and stay with their mysterious paternal grandmother, where they begin to learn about some strange abilities. These plot devices could have felt hackneyed and stale, being by no means original; instead they feel familiar, but by no means comfortable. Williams and Nix use the twins as a means of exploring different reactions to scenarios and individuals, and there are indications that the two will have different experiences of their abilities that will be explored in later books of the series (there will be another four). The trope of leaving home and going to an alien place is as old as fiction itself; it can be, and is used here as, the catalyst for self-discovery and learning about the world. The strange relative and slightly intimidating new environment – Grandma X and her weird house – are perfect for the target age-group: visiting unknown relatives can be a very scary thing indeed.
Allen and Unwin (2006)
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack, August 2010
The Old Kingdom Chronicles is an omnibus edition, containing the three novels Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen, and the novella “Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case”.
Each of these stories is set, as the omnibus title suggests, in the Old Kingdom. The Old Kingdom is a place where magic not only exists, and works, but where it often is of primary importance in people’s day to day lives. Ordinary people know magic works and respect it. Others devote their lives to channelling and using their magic, with entire communities building a lifestyle around their particular form of magic. But the Old Kingdom borders on Ancelstierre, a land which has technology very similar to ours – and no magic. Most people in Ancelstierre don’t believe in magic, or the stories they hear of the Old Kingdom. Between the two lands is the Wall, which protects both from the encroachment of the other. And those who defend the Wall know that the stories they hear of the Old Kingdom aren’t fanciful, but all too true. Those who don’t believe that, quickly die when their faith in technology blinds them to magic that can’t be defeated with technology.
Allen and Unwin (2003-2010)
Retrospective by Alexandra Pierce, March 2010
I loathe reading a series while it is still being written. Some find the sense of expectation a delightfully tingly one, I just find it brings out the worst of my impatience. I cannot express my unendurable smugness at all those Harry Potter fans agonising over the release date of the last book (I finally read them in 2009, ok? And yes, I’m converted).
For the last few years, the only series I have been waiting on impatiently has been Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom. And by that I mean trying to find out when each successive book came out; for the latest, and last, it meant asking in every bookstore I walked into whether it was on their system yet and whether they had a release date (and this while I was on holidays overseas). It has been something of an obsession. A curious one, too: they are short books, aimed at the younger end of the Young Adult spectrum. It seems, objectively, a bit ridiculous to so breathlessly anticipate a book that I read in about three hours (yes, I’ve timed it). And yet.