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Book Review: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

When Susan Arkshaw moves to London shortly after her 18th birthday in the spring of 1983, she expects to find work in a pub, cheap lodgings, get acclimated before her art program begins in the fall, and begin looking into the mystery of who her father is. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of what seems to be a supernatural sting operation when a young man bursts into her uncle Frank’s apartment, sticks a silver hatpin into him, and he dissolves into a pile of sand. This admittedly odd series of events is quickly followed by the young man, who calls himself Merlin, pulling out a large revolver and dispatching an enormous louse making its way up the stairs before leading Susan through the window on a mad rooftop escape dash. Followed out of the apartment by a mysterious, super-creepy fog, she finds herself in Highgate Wood in the middle of the night, treading back and forth on the Old Road with Merlin, trying not to look at the creature in the fog, and trying to get some answers.

In this case, though, answers lead to more questions. Merlin is a bookseller, of the left-handed variety (there are also right- and even-handed booksellers, in case you were wondering!), part of an ancient group that keeps the New World separate, safe, and happily oblivious to the Old World lying just beneath. Unfortunately, Susan seems to be the focus of a great deal of Old World interest – which Merlin believes is probably related to her unknown father. Together with his sister, Vivien, the three set out to solve the mystery of Susan’s parentage. With only a faded library reading room ticket, a silver cigarette case, and a small list of possible names mentioned by her mother over the years, they don’t have a lot to go on – but as the supernatural stakes grow ever higher, Susan, Merlin, and Vivien find themselves in a race for their lives.

Garth Nix is a fantasy powerhouse all on his own, but the best way I can think of to describe this clever, laugh-out-loud, fast-paced novel is Terry Pratchett meets Susan Cooper, with a little Neil Gaiman and Dr. Who thrown in for fun. Chock full of old legends, bookshops, incredible magic, chase scenes, weird British food (Google stargazy pie!), and all things London, this is exactly the book I needed to get me out of a serious pandemic reading stall-out. I also have it on good authority that the audio book is amazing, so it would also be a good companion on a fall color weekend drive to the pumpkin patch, as well as reading well into the night curled up under cozy blanket with a cup of hot tea. No matter how you choose to enjoy it, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is sure to make your October a little lighter!

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Book jacket cover of Jade CityWhat do you get when you cross a top notch urban fantasy with the Godfather with a Hong Kong style martial arts film? You get Jade City, a fabulous new book that is the start of a new series (yay!). Don’t just take my word for it – here’s what Library Journal had to say: “For centuries, the Green Bone warriors defended the island of Kekon from foreign invasion by using jade to enhance their physical and mental abilities. But now the peace is disintegrating as rival families compete to control Janloon, the capital city. Heading the No Peak clan are the Kauls. Eldest son Lan leads as Pillar, but he struggles with health issues and his grandfather’s efforts to seize control; sister Shae gave up her jade when she chose another path, but she has reluctantly been brought back into the family; youngest brother Hilo wields power as the Horn but is burdened by family issues. Yet as the Mountain clan, led by the notorious Ayt family, moves onto No Peak’s territory, and the Kauls try to stop their inevitable slide into clan war, the siblings discover much more is wrong beneath the surface tensions. VERDICT Making her adult fiction debut, YA author Lee draws on her Chinese heritage, passion for gangster stories, and strong writing to launch a Godfather-inspired fantasy series that mixes bold martial-arts action and vivid worldbuilding. The result is terrific.”