It’s only a matter of hours until Goldenhand, the fifth part of Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series, arrives on my kindle and I am ridiculously excited. I am also rather pleased with myself as I have achieved my aim – I have read all of the previously published stories in the series before it arrived, including the short story that follows Nicholas Sayre after the events of Abhorsen, The Creature in the Case.
The Creature in the Case, as mentioned previously, takes place shortly after Nicholas Sayre is nearly killed by the Destroyer in Abhorsen. Having had time in Ancelstierre to recover (as much as one can after such wounds), Nick is eager to go back to the Old Kingdom. Now that he has been baptised with a Charter Mark, he feels drawn to the north and is unsettled in his home country. His uncle, the Chief Minister of Ancelstierre, bargains with him so that Nick will first check out D13 – a department of the government that is used to secretly investigate other countries, including the mysterious Old Kingdom. At the country house in which the department hides, Nick finds a free magic creature and, after one of D13’s people feeds it some of his blood, it escapes. Nick’s blood, still touched by the Destroyer, is too rich for it and so it goes on a murderous rampage. Using all his intelligence and limited knowledge of Old Kingdom creatures, Nick tries to stop the creature with the desperate hope that an Abhorsen (preferably Lireal) will get his message in time to save the day.
I quite enjoy the fact that I have read Clariel and The Creature in the Case so close together because, in a lot of ways, they work like opposites. Clariel is set purely in the old Kingdom, while this short is purely in Ancelstierre. Both focus on Free Magic but from slightly different perspectives. Both Nick and Clariel are vastly different to Nix’s other Old Kingdom protagonists, due to their limited abilities with Charter Magic, the taint of Free Magic in them, their feelings of being apart from the peers around them. Both stories feel different than the rest of the series, because of the settings and protagonists, and this allows the readers to gain new information about the world. This is particularly true when it comes to understanding Ancelstierre – through Nick we get to understand some of the social hierarchy and culture in a way that wouldn’t be possible with some of the other characters.
The Creature in the Case is also interesting in its borrowing from other genres. As Garth Nix suggests in his introduction to the short story, while it remains in the YA fantasy realm, there are also hints of sci-fi alongside elements that wouldn’t be out of place in a murder mystery novel from Agatha Christie. He borrows from other genres and weaves them together seamlessly. It’s a hybrid, rather like Nick himself, and it suits his character voice well.
Nick, as a main character, is quite interesting to follow. The impression you get of him in Lireal and Abhorsen is of a rather arrogant young man who has great faith in his own intelligence. You kind of feel like he brought a lot of it on himself. The Creature in the Case lets you explore his character more, to see through the pomp and get to the more sympathetic character beneath. He IS very smart and, having brought up in privilege, does have a touch of natural snobbery, but he is also aware of his own shortcomings. And, as someone who grew up overly-confident in my own intelligence before it was quashed by circumstances (*cough*retail *cough*), I got him. His natural inclination is to work the problem out mentally but, because of recent events, he does have a brief moment of second guessing before realising that he doesn’t have many other options but to follow his instincts.
Unlike the other stories in the series, I don’t think I would consider The Creature in the Case as a coming-of-age story. There are no real life-altering, personality changing moments for Nick because he already had that in spades during Lireal and Abhorsen. It’s mostly him realising the differences in himself and the beginnings of him matching this new self-knowledge with his natural personality. I feel like it is a nice short story to truly establish the evolving character of Nick, given that our understanding of him comes through other characters whose impression of him may be tempered by previous experience, and therefore a huge character progression isn’t necessary. I am also quite sure that this understanding will be necessary for Goldenhand given the romantic hints that are filtering through. Yay, romance!
The Creature in the Case is a fun short story that helps build an understanding of Nicholas Sayre, Ancelstierre, and Free Magic. It starts like a classic murder mystery with hints of the usual fantasy, before rounding into what we have come to expect from the series at the end. And, most importantly, it makes me really excited for Goldenhand.