fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNewt’s Emerald by Garth Nix fantasy book reviewsNewt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

Here’s a charming young adult novel that you could file under both “Regency Romance” and “Fantasy.” In this fun story, Lady Truthful is celebrating her nineteenth birthday with her cousins when her slightly dotty father, a retired British admiral, brings out the family heirloom that Truthful will inherit in a few years. It’s an emerald that has magical power over the weather. As the admiral is displaying it, a fierce storm suddenly blows in and, in the hubbub, the emerald is stolen and the admiral is injured. To save the family heirloom, to keep its magic from falling into the wrong hands, and to protect her father’s fragile health, Truthful sets off to London to find her emerald.

Since it’s unsuitable for a proper young lady to be running about London by herself, Truthful disguises herself as a Frenchman. She gets help from a few people, including her great aunt and a handsome young military man who seems to hate both women and Frenchmen. As Truthful tries to solve the mystery of the missing emerald, the deceptions and glamours she employs lead to a variety of amusing misperceptions and misunderstandings.

Employing the styles of both a Jane Austen romance and a K.W. Jeter steampunk adventure, Garth Nix constructs a playful YA escapade that has broad appeal. Lady Truthful is both an admirable and believable Regency-era heroine. She’s feisty and independent, making her a character that modern girls can admire. Yet she still works within the constraints of her patriarchal society and is eager to fit in and advance herself in the ways that women normally did back then — presumably with an advantageous marriage to a wealthy nobleman.

Feministic aside: As much as I love a rebellious heroine who wants to buck the system, I find it a little hard to believe in the early 19th-century young lady who mysteriously espouses 21st-century values. I’ve read too many stories like this and I suspect that’s because while most modern women don’t actually want to return to a time when they were treated like incompetent pieces of property, they do fantasize about wearing fancy gowns to elaborate balls and flirting with impeccably-tailored men who have noble titles and call them “my lady.” And thus we have a surplus of improbable stories in which a 21st-century mindset inhabits a 19th-century ball gown….

But anyway, I was saying that Garth Nix has created a believable Regency-era heroine who we can still admire. She thinks like a young lady of that time period would, but she is brave and independent enough to go outside of her comfort zone and take on another role when she must.

The plot of Newt’s Emerald is fast-paced and a bit zany. There are kidnappings, mistaken identities, masquerades, dastardly plans, chases, gun fights and (no respectable steampunk-inspired adventure would be without one) explosions. Character development is a little thin and the romantic drama is slightly implausible, but the story is fun enough that most readers probably won’t care.

I listened to HarperAudio’s version of Newt’s Emerald. It’s 6.5 hours long and is narrated by Faye Adele. Her gorgeous English accent is perfect for this story, but her pacing is not quite as perfect; sometimes she pauses too long at a comma and it feels like the end of the sentence. This was occasionally jarring, but I didn’t really mind because I enjoyed her voice so much.

Published on October 13, 2015. Inspired by the works of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, Garth Nix’s Newt’s Emerald is a Regency romance with a fantasy twist. New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger calls it “charming; quite, quite charming.” After Lady Truthful’s magical Newington Emerald is stolen from her she devises a simple plan: go to London to recover the missing jewel. She quickly learns, however, that a woman cannot wander the city streets alone without damaging her reputation, and she disguises herself as a mustache-wearing man. During Truthful’s dangerous journey she discovers a crook, an unsuspecting ally, and an evil sorceress—but will she find the Emerald?


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.