So the eagerly anticipated fifth book of Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom/Abhorsen trilogy was finally released in the UK and made it onto my kindle just after midnight. Thanks to a very long train journey, I’ve spent the better part of a day immersed in the invigorating novel that is Goldenhand.
Goldenhand mostly takes place around the time just after The Creature in the Case. Like Lireal, much of the novel dances between two perspectives. The first follows Ferin, a young woman from the far north, who is considered the best and least of her people. She is supposed to be an Offering for the Witch With No Face, a Free Magic sorceress known by those in the Old Kingdom as Chlorr of the Mask, who uses Offerings as a source of new younger bodies for when she has worn out her last. But Ferin runs from the Witch With No Face and the other tribesmen who pursue her. She carries a message left by a dead Seer who visited her tribe. A message for Lireal. The other half of the story follows Lireal as she tries to work out the mystery that is Nicholas Sayre. Having become a strange blend of human, Charter Magic, and Free Magic in Abhorsen, Nick’s body reacts strangely around the Charter and even causes the Wall and Lireal’s Abhorsen bells to freak out. She takes him to the Library of the Clayr to learn more about the power inside him but it isn’t long until this power needs to be put to the test.
I really enjoyed Goldenhand. It has definitely slipped in as my third favourite of the series and might even move in to second. Apparently I really like it when Nix dips between two very different perspectives. The book ties together a lot of elements from the previous books, some of which I had predicted and some were more of a surprise. And, most importantly, it expands the world that I love.
Thanks to previous books, we know a lot of the characters that feature in Goldenhand and it’s like returning to meet old friends again. It is especially nice to see how they’ve grown. Lireal, returning once again as a protagonist, has matured beyond her shy and mostly silent teenage years, stepping up to the responsibilities of her new position as Abhorsen-in-Waiting. She is still rather introverted and second guesses herself though, and I like that Nix hasn’t changed that element of her personality. Nick’s role fits a lot of what I predicted in The Creature in the Case (bar his Charter Magic) and, going hardcore fangirl here, I ship it so hard. Sabriel is also back near the forefront and having her there is really interesting. We only get brief glimpses of her outside of her own novel, not getting anything in depth, and now we get to see her as a fully fledged adult Abhorsen. I hadn’t realised how desperate I was to learn more about her until now.
There is one major new character, Ferin, and she is pretty awesome. She is wrapped in her duty to deliver a message to Lireal, with the knowledge that her people will be destroyed if she fails, and throws herself into the task without care for herself. I will admit that it took me a while to get a feel for her at first as she is so roped up in her responsibility but I admired her tenacity and honour. Then (SPOILER) she achieves her goal and endless enthusiasm is added to her personality. I’m with Sabriel and Touchstone when it comes to Ferin and her potential love interest – I look forward to seeing how it turns out because she will definitely give him a run for his money.
Goldenhand further expands the magic used in the series, mostly that of Free Magic but with touches of Charter Magic, and naturally this works to build the world further. Those in the far north don’t have the full-blown influence of the Charter and thus the way they handle magic is very different to that of the Old Kingdom. Instead, there is a hell of a lot of Free Magic and kept shamans that wield it to do their clan’s bidding. Most interestingly though, is the expansion of the Old Kingdom map. The story moves us far beyond the realms of the Clayr and it provides us with more understanding of what Lireal learned of the worlds that Orannis destroyed in Abhorsen. As always, I love the world-building.
The main issue with Goldenhand is one that features in the previous books as well. Pacing. When I was reading I was initially under the impression that this was the set-up book for another, much as Lireal had been for Abhorsen. The first three quarters hold such limited aims that I didn’t see how it would come to any sort of conclusion. Lireal’s sections, for the most part, move at a rather languid pace, until suddenly the romantic element leaps forward from awkward conversations to admissions of their affections. It fits the character(s) but does make me do a bit of a double take. Ferin’s parts, meanwhile, rush through with the singular goal of her delivering her message. This balances the book out somewhat but doesn’t provide any input as to how the novel will conclude. Then (SPOILERS) suddenly, within the space of a quarter, everyone is in one place discussing how to take down Chlorr and how to stop a battle and then everyone is going off to do what they’ve agreed and things are going wrong and hello Mogget and hello Dog and then everything is better (END SPOILERS).
My only other slight complaint is that Chlorr isn’t hugely present as a villain. Unlike the Destroyer, who you felt hovering in every action, she feels apart from it all. Even in the end, she feels a bit too distant to feel like a threat that is comparable to the others faced in the series. The search to find her feels more dangerous to the characters than she ever does. It doesn’t detract from Goldenhand too much but I would have appreciated a villain with some greater oomf.
So was Goldenhand worth the wait? I must give it a resounding yes! I love the world, I love the characters, and I love the continuation of the series. I know you aren’t supposed to have too much of a good thing but I desperately hope for more. When is book six out?