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!