fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Garth Nix The Keys to the Kingdom Sir ThursdaySir Thursday by Garth Nix

By now the basic premise of Garth Nix’s seven-part The Keys to the Kingdom series is well established. Arthur Penhaligon has been thrown into an extraordinary world: the epicenter of the universe, known as “the House”. Ruled by the treacherous Morrow Days (named after the days of the week and each personifying one of the seven deadly sins: Mister Monday/sloth; Grim Tuesday/greed; Drowned Wednesday/gluttony and now Sir Thursday who appears to be pride), Arthur has been given the task of reassembling the missing pieces of the Will that will strip these characters of their power and return it to the Rightful Heir — himself!

Perhaps a bit more exposition is needed: the Will is the written word of the creator of this world; a mysterious female-deity known as the Architect. Each piece of the Will takes the form of an animal before each is enveloped into Dame Primus; the embodiment of the Will itself. She grows stronger as Arthur returns each part of herself, and armed with the keys of the Morrow Days, the two stand a chance against the awesome power that each Morrow Day wields. So far Arthur has been successful, though the reluctant hero is getting nervous about his chances of returning home to his ordinary life, not to mention the dangers posed to his own world thanks to the upheavals taking place in the House.

In particular, Arthur is terrified about “the Skinless Boy,” the doppelganger that has taken his place in the real world and who has the power to infect those about him with a grey mould that renders them his mindless servants. Sending his friend Leaf (her parents were hippies) back home to attempt to find the source of the Skinless Boy’s power and destroy it, Arthur turns his attention to matters in the House. He has unknowingly been drafted into the Glorious Army of Sir Thursday, who has arrogantly released several thousand Nithlings (creatures made from Nothingness) into his province, the Great Maze, in order to train his troops. Feeling that it is the best hiding place for Arthur, Dame Primus encourages him to enlist so that he might seize the opportunity to get close find the forth piece of the Will. Moving between the two plots is the irrepressible Suzy Turquoise Blue, easily Nix’s most vivacious character.

Garth Nix spent a few years in the Australian Army Reserve, which explains why so much of the routine and regulations of army life is so vividly captured in Arthur’s stint as a soldier. Long hours of tedious training, yelling drill sergeants, heavy marches through difficult terrain, endless inspections, being shuffled from officer to officer, and then the heat and confusion of battle itself — it’s enough to put you off war for good.

Arthur is gradually growing up as the stories go on, willingly taking more and more responsibility on his young shoulders as his emotional investment in the House and its inhabitants grow (not to mention the symbiotic effect it has on his own world). Even if it means loosing his own humanity and becoming a Denizen of the House, Arthur is now fully committed to his cause, foregoing a way out at what seems like a great personal cost. Likewise, pieces of the master-plan at work behind the Morrow Days are beginning to show — could it be that the Days of the Week are not behind some of the chaos? Arthur finds himself relying more and more on himself to find his own path through the turmoil of the political intrigue. At one stage he finds himself caught between three morally ambiguous characters: the self-righteous Will, the tyrannical Sir Thursday and the mysterious Piper that considers himself the Rightful Heir. Event the Architect herself — supposedly the creator of the universe — is thrown into some doubt in this installment. How Arthur wades through these murky waters makes for challenging and thought-provoking reading.

Unfortunately, much of the story feels a bit like padding. Arthur gets “cleaned between the ears”, that is, his memory is wiped, but this somewhat clichéd amnesia-device adds little to the plot itself save as a minor inconvenience that he soon overcomes. Likewise, although the action-sequences of Leaf attempting to thwart the designs of the Skinless Boy are tense and fast-paced, it is ultimately a subplot that has no real bearing on the central thread of the story. Garth Nix’s vivid imagination is firmly intact when it comes to atmosphere — particularly in his portrayal of the Great Maze as a moveable checkerboard, with each square covered in a different terrain — but although I enjoyed this installment better than Drowned Wednesday, it still doesn’t quite live up to the intense imaginative tour-de-force of Mister Monday and Grim Tuesday. Nevertheless, I’ll be on the lookout for Lady Friday!

The Keys to the Kingdom — (2003-2010) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Seven days. Seven keys. Seven virtues. Seven sins. One mysterious house is the doorway to a very mysterious world — where one boy is about to venture and unlock a number of fantastical secrets.

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  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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