Allen & Unwin, RRP $19.99
Have you read a Garth Nix before? Have you? Have you?
If you answered yes, you are correct. Well done. There is truly nothing I need to tell you other than – hey, check it out, a book full of short stories by Garth Nix. Huzzah!
If you answered no, then this is me taking you by the shoulders, looking deep into your slightly terrified peepers and trying to convince you to make that positive change in your life.
I give fair warning – clearly I’m a fan. But, like all things I have a great appreciation for, there is good reason to celebrate the joys of this collection of eighteen short stories plus one Old Kingdom novella – the eponymous To Hold The Bridge.
The Old Kingdom series, consisting of Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and, most recently, Clariel, are perhaps the most beloved of Nix’s fantasy offerings. Back in the 90s when Girl Power™ was all the rage and long before Katniss Everdeen drew her angsty bow, Sabriel was kicking the dead back down the shady river through the Gates of Death where they belong with a belt full of bells and a sarky cat called Mogget.
To Hold The Bridge is set in the far north of the Old Kingdom. The Greenwash Bridge Company has been building a bridge for the last eighty-seven years. One can only imagine they’ll rake it in with the tolls, Citylink style, once they’re done. The Company takes only the best and brightest of Charter mages – those who know how to use and control the Charter symbols to cast spells. The Charter was created to bring some kind of order and structure to the original chaos of Free Magic.
Morghan, a young gentleman of reduced circumstances*, applies to the Company as a cadet in his last chance to make something of himself. Will he prove himself worthy of the Company? Is he strong enough to defend against Free Magic sorcery? Well, I’m not telling am I? That’s the point of reading the story.
Following on is a wonderfully motley assortment of short stories ranging from a shy LARPing knight in not very shining armour, to a Holmes story without the Sherlock, to an under-loch Hellboy fanfic.† Each is imbued with Nix’s skills at bringing a lightness of language to dark tales. He also has the knack for creating a realism within even the most fantastical of plots and situations no matter what the genre. These eighteen shorts are grouped into five genre-spanning sections dealing broadly with creepy creatures, humour, imaginative horror, finding confidence, and otherworldly weirdness.
While this collection will likely be labelled Young Adult fiction in the very human need to categorise and label and organise, I iterate my thought that a good story is a good story. Age has no bearing on that matter. And these stories? Well, they’re good stories and I would hate to think of them being passed by by those who think of the Young Adult category as being for kids. Do not fear non-Young Adult, I promise you are allowed to read books from the Young Adult section. If you’re worried about being judged by the uninformed, just hide it behind a cover of Proust or wrap your “grown-up” Harry Potter covers over it. You’re all set.
* Apologies, I seem to have fallen into a Regency novel and can’t get out.
† No, really. Hellboy fanfic. And to be perfectly clear, I do not highlight that as a negative. Quite the opposite.