Goldenhand by Garth Nix
In my recent review of Clariel, I mentioned that The Old Kingdom series was a series that I had loved as a teenager and that I had been very excited to discover Nix was releasing another novel in the series. Off the back of this excitement, I had read Clariel over the summer and was a little disappointed by it. Part of me thought that maybe it was simply a case of growing up and literary tastes changing, but Goldenhand showed me that this was very much not the case: I loved this novel so much that my housemate ended up laughing at the little smile I had on my face the whole time I was reading.
Goldenhand picks up 6 months after the battle with Orannis that forms the narrative of both Lirael and Abhorsen. The characters are moving on with their lives, with Lirael and Sameth adjusting to their new roles whilst Sabriel and Touchstone attempt to have some time off; but periods of peace never last long in The Old Kingdom and trouble soon crops up in the form of an old enemy and the mystery of what Nicholas Sayre is now. I had speculated in my review of Clariel that I thought her story was going to form an important part of the narrative in Goldenhand and I was pleased to see that I was correct: it gives Clariel more weight as part of the series.
Many fans had been very excited by the prospect of the Lirael and Nick storyline, but this was one of the things I had been apprehensive about before starting the novel. It was quite clear from the promotional material that they were going to be moving towards a romance, and I was worried that it was going to be a bit cliché. However, I was pleasantly surprised that most of the lead-up to their getting together was actually relatively cute and relatable in terms of their collective awkwardness. Overall, though, this particular aspect of the narrative was not as important to the growth of the characters as other emotional tensions were: Lirael’s grief over the loss of the Dog and her shock at receiving a message from her dead mother.
More interesting than Lirael and Nick’s storyline was the introduction of Ferin and the world of the nomad tribes. Ferin quickly became my favourite character, possibly of the entire series. There is something so inherently innocent and yet hardened about her; she is often the comic relief, yet she is a main character and a driving force in the narrative in her own right. It was a joy to read her scenes, and I would gladly read more novels describing her further adventures. The world of the nomad tribes were fascinating, although I wish that more of the tribes had been on the right side of the final battle: it seems a little simplistic to state that all the nomad tribes were in Chlorr of the Mask’s pocket. However, as an expansion of the world it was really interesting.
One issue I have previously had with Nix’s writing is the struggle to resolve the narrative in a way that lives up to the high standard of the rest of the novel. However, I think that the resolution to Goldenhand was pitched just right: although the bulk of the resolution came through a battle in Death, the larger battle in Life still retained a sense of peril independent of Lirael’s efforts. There was much more of a balance to the build up and resolution of the narrative than we have seen in previous The Old Kingdom novels, and that is a great testament to Nix’s growth as a writer over these years.
Overall, I am very enthusiastic about this addition to The Old Kingdom series; it was a joy to return to these characters and this world that I loved so much as a teenager. It was a novel that made me laugh out loud in parts and that made me root for every single one of the characters, even those I found less interesting. I would recommend this to any fan of The Old Kingdom series, it definitely lived up to my expectations. For those unfamiliar with Nix’s work, though, I would recommend Sabriel, the first book in the series, as the place to start; Goldenhand is not a novel that can particularly be read as standalone.