The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, Garth Nix; Marisa Calin, narrator (Listening Library 978-0-59317187-5, $27.50, digital download, 11.25 hr., unabridged) September 2020.
Set in an alternate 1983, this standalone from Garth Nix blends aspects of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Susan’s mother has always been very vague on any information about Susan’s father, so when she turns 18, the young woman resolves to go to London and look for him herself. Once there, Susan discovers that any number of inimical magical creatures, as well as bespelled criminals, have taken a dangerous interest in her.
Thankfully, she gains both information and assistance from Merlin, a handsome young man (at least for the moment; he’s capable of switching gender) with a taste for fashion and an array of combat skills. Merlin is a left-handed bookseller, part of a clan who sells books and negotiates between humanity and the magical creatures of the Old World. As the attacks on Susan escalate, her search for her father takes on a dangerous urgency, and, while she has Merlin’s support, the rest of his family must decide whether to help Susan or to execute her as a danger to them all.
Narrator Marisa Calin didn’t quite feel up to singing when the text called for it, but she did manage a sort of creditable chant at those moments. Born in California, raised in Bath, England, and theatrically educated in New York, she is able to pull out a nice array of pitches and the full set of British accents, as well as convincingly voice some hapless American tourists. The book also possesses that key quality that I nearly always want in an audiobook: great pacing, which shifts smoothly from humor, to action, to striking poignancy in the aftermath of violence.
As readers of this column know, I can’t keep away from Garth Nix; even when I’m somewhat disappointed by one of his works, I’m always back for the next one. I was fully rewarded for my efforts this time around; this book was just delightful, and I stayed up late to finish it. Absolutely the diversion I needed right now.
This review and more like it in the January 2021 issue of Locus.
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