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.
I should know by now that any Garth Nix book is sure to be a little quirky, with some brilliantly written characters and magic, and The Left-Handed Booksellers of London ticks all three. Susan Arkshaw is just a regular girl, living a regular life looking for her father. She has some weird dreams she can’t really explain and her mums a little ‘different’ but her life so far can be easily described as normal. That is until she goes to London and witnesses her ‘Uncle Frank’ disappear into dust after being poked by disarmingly handsome young boy who tells her his name is Merlin and they need to run. Susan unwillingly gets dragged into the ‘Old World’ and soon realises that Merlin, his sister Vivian and the rest of the Booksellers (both left & right handed) may be the only ones who can help her find out who her father is. But there is something bigger afoot, and the booksellers may need to look a little closer to home to realise where the true danger lies.
Told in 3rd person The Left Handed Booksellers of London follows Susan, Merlin and Vivian on a slightly dangerous, definitely magical journey. Susan thinks shes normal, until that fateful night when she finds out there is magic in the world, and that magic might be the key to finding her father. For someone who has had no real contact with the magical world she seems to react to the stranger situations a lot better than I feel I would, but that be more down to Merlin’s handsomeness (at least if you ask him) than her ability to cope. Merlin is a Left-Handed Bookseller (the fighting kind) and has never quite met anyone like Susan before, he also thinks she may have clues to the death of his mother years before and keeps a tight hold on her for that reason alone (at least that’s what he tells himself). Vivian is a Right-Handed Bookseller (the intellectual kind) and puts slightly more thought into her decisions than her brother does. The three make for a slightly unusual looking, mostly effectual team.
As well as our three MC’s we get introduced to a whole host of people/creatures that form the bridge between the New and Old World including Booksellers both Right and Left Handed (both the superior depending who you ask), Inspector Greene (who sometimes really hates her job), as well as Goblins, A Shuck, Sippers (which are NOT Vampires), and The Old Man of Coniston ( yes, he really does exist.) Few people mix the magical with the mundane as well as Nix and this book was no exception. He made you believe these creatures could exist in our world quite effortlessly, and I was easily dragged into his alternative 1980’s London.
I will admit it took me a little to get into the swing of this book. But once you meet all the characters and understand a little better what is going in I found myself flying through the pages. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the readers guessing and some pretty epic fight scenes (in fact Merlin has a bit of a thing for ancient weaponry so you may get more descriptions than you bargained for), and if there is one thing Nix’s writing doesn’t lack it is imagery. I found this to be a really fun and fast paced book, set in a world I wouldn’t hesitate to come back too.