By now the formula to the Keys to the Kingdom series is in place — taking place over a week-long period (with each book chronicling a day) young Arthur Penhaligon travels into the mystical realm of “the House” in order to find seven pieces of a torn Will. This Will was destroyed by the personified Days of the Week (or the ‘Morrow Days’), each of whom embody one of the seven deadly sins. Arthur has already defeated Mister Monday’s sloth and Grim Tuesday’s greed, and now comes up against Drowned Wednesday’s terrible gluttony. By doing this, Arthur hopes to bring order once more to the House, in accordance with the instructions left by the Architect (the world’s Creator) in the Will she left behind.
There’s a lot more to it than that, so I strongly suggest reading Mister Monday and Grim Tuesday before this one, as Garth Nix’s storylines are rather complicated — though not so complicated that it’s not accessible to young readers. Once more Nix brings fresh new ideas to the fantasy genre, as well as a twisting plot, colorful characters and a brave protagonist who has now decided to take matters into his own hands.
From his hospital bed Arthur is set adrift on a stormy sea, along with Leaf, his new friend from the previous books. He’s back in the realm of the House, and has a luncheon meeting with Lady Wednesday before him — and given his experience with the other Morrow Days, he’s not looking forward to it. Separated from Leaf, and marked out by the terrible pirate Feverfew, Arthur meets an array of more unusual characters — such as the suspicious Doctor Scamandros and the untrustworthy Raised Rats (the rats that were spirited away by the Pied Piper of Hamilton). Now he must find a way to rescue Leaf and attain the next part of the Will — but who can he really trust?
Once more Nix fills his books with allusions to myths, legends and other famous stories — here in particular he shows his regard for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and characters both old and new turn up to join in the adventure — in particular the irrepressible Suzy Turquoise Blue. Drowned Wednesday in particular gets a different treatment than the other Morrow Days, portrayed as a victim rather than an antagonist — the role of villain goes to the pirate Feverfew.
Unfortunately, Drowned Wednesday was not as enjoyable as the last two books — a sense of invention and magic was missing this time around, though there is still plenty to explore. The Border Seas were simply not as interesting to me as the previous settings; Arthur spends most of his time on ships and submarines — I either wanted to go back to the myriad of rooms of the House or onto the tantalizing named and often-mentioned ‘Great Maze’ and ‘Incomparable Gardens’.
Nix seems obsessed with giving poor Arthur as many injuries as possible (rest assured, had he been in the real world, he would not have survived all the gashes, broken limbs and asthma attacks he experiences here), and often tension is created through near-escapes and close encounters — nothing like the battles and competitions of the other books. Drowned Wednesday is therefore not quite as gripping as the previous installments — but I can only be critical in comparison with other Nix books, since Drowned Wednesday is still much better than many other children’s fantasy out there, and I’m eagerly awaiting Sir Tuesday.
And does anyone else think that the name ‘Arthur Penhaligon’ is a little too similar to ‘Arthur Pendragon’ to be a coincidence?