Superior Saturday: The pieces are in place for the final battle

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The longest week of Arthur Penhaligon’s life is drawing to a close in this, the penultimate installment in Garth Nix’s The Keys to the Kingdom seven book series. Although he has managed to win five Keys from the immortal Trustees that rule over the House (the epicentre of the universe) and free five parts of the Will (the embodiment of the legislation left behind by the mysterious Architect) he still has the two most dangerous challenges left to defeat: the powerful Superior Saturday and the enigmatic Lord Sunday.

As in all the books, Arthur must free the next part of the Will and wrest the Key from the Trustee, but Nix’s skill as a storyteller keeps this formula from getting stale. By this stage, the situation is dire and things just keep getting worse for our intrepid hero. The terrible Nothing is swallowing up the lower portions of the House, many of his allies are unreliable, and a nuclear bomb attack threatens his home city. With his family and friend Leaf endangered on the one hand, Arthur must make an intractable decision regarding his own humanity to (literally) buy some time for the safety of his loved ones.

Meanwhile, Superior Saturday stands in her impossibly tall tower soaked by constant rainfall, the square iron cubicles that make up its height constantly being raised in her attempts to breach the base of the Incomparable Gardens where Lord Sunday resides. (Could this be Nix’s sly nudge at corporate life? Even though promotions are physical movements to a higher floor, conditions aren’t really improved, one’s peers are bitterly resentful, and one only gets a different colored umbrella in return for all that hard work). All of the Trustees embody one of the seven deadly sins, and Saturday jealously coverts Lord Sunday’s position, which opens up an opportunity for Arthur (and Suzy Turquoise Blue, of course) to infiltrate her realm.

By this stage Arthur is a proactive, three-dimensional hero who has accepted the burden placed upon him. He makes his plans, stands up to Dame Primus, and goes undercover with the grease monkeys that oversee the growth of the tower. But at the same time, Arthur himself is going through some rather profound changes. Every time he uses the power of the Keys, more of his mortal self is sapped away, along with the chance to return home to a normal life. Although his transition into a Denizen of the House means supernatural strength and the elimination of his asthma, it also has the troubling side-effect of loosing much of his empathy toward lesser life-forms. Struggling to stifle his newfound sense of arrogance, one can feel the weight on this young man’s shoulders, even as his body loses many of its weaknesses.

The Keys to the Kingdom is so complex that it’s impossible for a beginner to start things here, what with the sheer amount of information concerning the House, the Trustees, the Will, and various other powers and personalities. But for long time readers Superior Saturday is a satisfying read… for the most part. Superior Saturday herself, one of the most dangerous entities in the entire series, is disappointingly absent for most of the book, and although all of the books thus far have been relatively self-contained with a clear beginning-middle-end to the adventures, Superior Saturday ends on a frustrating cliff-hanger. Perhaps it’s better to wait until the publication of Lord Sunday and read the “weekend books” one after the other in a single volume.

But like a giant chess game, the pieces now seem to be in place for the final battle: the Piper, Saturday and Sunday, Dame Primus, and Arthur himself are all ready for the final climactic battle (as well as an intriguing reappearance from the Old One that will surely have its consequences in next book). I’m greatly looking forward to Lord Sunday.

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, 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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