This is the second review I'm writing for Goldenhand. I was supplied with a review copy from Edelweiss in 2016, but only found out it was half the book when I checked Nix's website for a quiet announcement. I purchased a physical copy because I have and love the rest of the series, but I ended up borrowing the audiobook from my local library to finish this book.
Nix's writing is beautiful and en pointe as usual. He has an uncanny knack for reader engagement: the way he chooses to tell the story makes what should seem like a not so interesting scene still riveting. This is the same skill that my all-time favourite author, Louise Cooper, also had. At the same time with providing that information, he skips over enough so that our imaginations can take over when needed. I read once that if someone made a TV show of his works, he'd have to figure out what all the individual Charter marks looked liked, because their exact shape isn't relevant to the storytelling in a novel. He has a perfect balance of delivering what information we as readers need, such as the names and natures of the individual bells, and omitting what we don't need, like the actual shape of individual Charter marks.
The narrator was also engaging and did very fine impressions of different voices for dialogue. Nix is Australian, but the Old Kingdom stories use a kind of more formal language, and Ancelstierre seems more British, so the narrator's fine Oxford accent worked beautifully.
I can't gush enough about the way Nix writes women. As a woman and a YA reader, I'm drawn to books written by women about women, and I don't read many books starring male main characters or written by men. I don't feel that male authors in general can write women very well or that male characters have stories I'm interested in. But Nix wields strong women characters much the way George RR Martin or the creators of The Last Airbender, Daniel Di Martino do: with great skill and numbers. With Nix, the default is not necessarily male. Even though the Old Kingdom is clearly behind the real world in terms of technology, their gender politics are far more advanced. I still can't get over the fact that this book centred around so many kick-ass women, and the boys were happy to take their lead from their women. Touchstone may be King, but Sabriel is Abhorsen and Queen. Nick defers to Lirael's wisdom and training, even though she's only an apprentice Abhorsen and still very young. Even Sam seems taken aback by Ferin's warrior confidence. I just want to wrap up this cast of characters and take them home with me. Touchstone even wears a kilt!
While my initial reading of this book ended somewhat abruptly halfway through, I can guarantee it's worth reading the rest of the book. I love seeing Sabriel working as an experienced fearless Abhorsen and I love seeing the strange relationship she has with her half-sister Lirael, who is both much younger than her and following in her professional footsteps. Neither of them chose to be Abhorsen, and they are still a little awkward around each other, with Sabriel more senior in terms of royalty, age, and experience, but wanting to be close to Lirael emotionally. I'm completely in awe of Lirael, who started her own book, Lirael, as a shy introverted librarian and has blossomed into a competent warrior, binding the dead to her will and generally being so completely awesome I'm surprised my head doesn't just explode at her character growth.
Basically if you have read the other books in the series (and I strongly recommend you do) you do not want to miss out on reading this one. I always want another Old Kingdom book.