I think every reader of fantasy fiction has heard of Garth Nix. He’s been writing for quite a while and spanning from middle grade to young adult to adult. He is probably most well-known for his Sabriel series – I personally have been reading his books for well over half my life. But The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is my favourite one of them all.
Massive thanks to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for sending me a review copy! All opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
RELEASE DATE: 24/09/2020
SUMMARY: In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.
Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.
Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.
Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: I absolutely loved The Left-Handed Booksellers of London! It is a crossover between YA and adult fantasy – I think it’s published as YA in the US whereas Gollancz is an adult imprint. It does work in either category and is suitable for teen readers as well. And oh, how I fell in love with this world where bookish nerds are superhero types. There are right-handed booksellers, who are great at research and know a ton of obscure things, and left-handed booksellers who are great with books AND swords. So, basically, this is my ideal world. And I want to be one of them.
Garth Nix manages to seamlessly blend British folklore with writing the loveliest, nerdiest, funniest book I’ve read. A passage I particularly enjoyed that shows this:
“Children’s writers,” said Merlin. “Dangerous bunch. They cause us a lot of trouble.”
“How?” asked Susan.
“They don’t do it on purpose,” said Merlin. He opened the door. “But quite often they discover the key to raise some ancient myth, or release something that should have stayed imprisoned, and they share that knowledge via their writing. Stories aren’t always merely stories, you know. Come on.”
So, you know, absolutely no reason not to run to the nearest bookshop and try and find a bookseller, though probably not one of the right- or left-handed ones, to sell you a copy of this amazing book. Apart from wit and humour, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London also features a great 1980s setting – which seems to be my October theme after yesterday’s review. There are also fantastic characters: feisty and artistic Susan, trying to figure out who she is, Merlin, who thinks he knows a lot but really doesn’t know half as much as he believes and does a lot of growing up, and his sister Vivien, who is right-handed but surprisingly handy in many real-life situations. And that is not mentioning all the colourful minor characters.
You see, a treat of a book. Really, you do need a copy as soon as you can get your hands on one. Ideally from a bookseller in London. Maybe even a left-handed one if you can find one. Add The Left-Handed Booksellers of London to your Goodreads here and order yourself a copy from Waterstones here.