Kids’ Books I Like: Garth Nix

I was walking through Barnes & Noble today (it’s my happy place), and I saw that Garth Nix has a new book out!  It’s called Trouble Twisters and it’s written by Mr. Nix and Sean Williams, who has written a number of Star Wars books.  I haven’t read it yet, not even I read that fast, but it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about Nix for a while now.

Garth Nix is one of those rare writers who can change up his writing style with apparent ease.  He doesn’t change genres, all of his books are YA sci-fi/fantasy, but if I read The Seventh Tower series after Sabriel I have a hard time convincing myself that they were written by the same guy.  Whatever his style, though, it’s all good.

The Abhorsen Trilogy

This was my introduction to the world of Nix.  I thought Sabriel looked pretty and the description looked interesting, so I gave it a try.  I know they say “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but I have found some of my favorites based on artwork or an interesting title.  Anyway, Sabriel is the Abhorsen-in-training, which means her father is teaching her how to soothe the restless dead.  The Abhorsen is basically a necromancer who uses his or her powers for good.  Her father is killed unexpectedly while she is away at boarding school and she is thrust into her new role feeling very unprepared.  Especially since it becomes clear that she will have to face something very big, very bad and very soon.  She wins the day and fully assumes her heredity with the assistance of an attractive amnesiac and a superbly snarky cat named Mogget.

The next two books, Lirael and Abhorsen, take place about seventeen years later and follow Lirael.  Lirael is a member of one of the other magical races in the Old Kingdom, the Clayr.  Lirael is a classic “misfit finds her place” story.  The Clayr are all blonde, blue-eyed, tan seers who receive their gift of sight around the time they hit puberty.  Lirael is pale, dark haired and never gets her Sight.  She does have a powerful gift for magic, though.  Her Clayr cousins have a vision of her saving the world, so they send her out into the world to seek her fortune (so to speak).  It turns out that, while her mother was a Clayr, her father was the former Abhorsen, giving Lirael the heritage she needs to become a Rememberancer, an Abhorsen who can also see into the past.  She has to save the world from an even bigger, badder bad guy than Sabriel, but she gets more help and two books to do it in.

In this case, I think is is safe to judge these books by their covers.  I have rarely seen cover art that portrays a book so well.  Like the artwork, the Abhorsen Trilogy is a little dark, but at the same time beautiful and elegant.

The Seventh Tower

The Seventh Tower series, which only has six books in it, is hard to describe.  It starts with Tal, a young boy who lives in Castle.  Castle is like a futuristic city, with seven towers, with a rigid class system where everyone is ranked by color.  Reds are the lowest of the Chosen and Violets are at the top.  Everyone else is Underfolk, the servant class.  When his father disappears, his mother gets poisoned and his little brother is kidnapped, Tal realizes that all is not right in the Castle.  So he leaves to find help on the Ice.  Everything outside the Castle is Ice.  The people who live on the ice, Icekarls, have a very Nordic, slightly barbaric, lifestyle.  (Nordic like Vikings, not like Ikea.)  Tal meets Milla, who wants to be a Shield-Maiden.  She thinks he is a coward and an idiot, but since they are forced to work together, they end up becoming friends.  Together they expose deception and corruption in the Castle’s ruling family.  The series has a little too much going on to be truly excellent; beside what I’ve already talked about there are shape-shifting Shadowguards, companion Spiritshadows, crazy-ass monsters, and the whole world is in a state of perpetual night, except the spirit world Aenir, but it is a quick read and lots of fun.  For some reason it always makes me think of the movie Logan’s Run.

The Keys to the Kingdom

Stylistically, this series is like a blend of Abhorsen and Seventh Tower.  It’s kind of dark, and the setting has a sort of steampunk elegance, but good lord is it a confusing story to try and explain.  I’m keeping it simple, otherwise I’ll go in circles till my brain turns inside out.  Arthur is a young boy in a world that is much like ours, but slightly more advanced.  He is chosen to become the Rightful Heir to the House.  The House is a world made by the Creator, it exists in a symbiotic relationship with the regular world.  Changes on our world influence the House, and when things go badly in the House, it is reflected in our world.  The House is falling apart because the Trustees have all been infected by one of the seven deadly sins and they are neglecting their areas of responsibility.  Each Trustee is named after a day of the week, and they have the power to affect things in our world on their day.  Each book is named after the Trustee that Arthur has to fight.  For example, book one, which is my favorite, is called Mister Monday, so Arthur has to fight Mister Monday, who has been afflicted with sloth.  Despite the fact that I can’t give you a decent description of the series, I highly recommend it.  But if you have to take a long break between books, I suggest starting over at the beginning because chances are you won’t know what the heck is going on when you come back to it.

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at if you're interested in checking it out.

12 replies on “Kids’ Books I Like: Garth Nix”

I loved the Abhorsen trilogy when I was younger, and I still love it today. I will definitely check out his Keys to the Kingdom series now. One of my favourite things about his writing is how his world and, the magic within it, have clearly defined laws and rules; he doesn’t write himself into a corner, deus ex machina the problem and yell “WIZARD!”.

Another big thing for me was the strong, independent female characters; I really related to Sabriel and Lirael, who were scared and didn’t always know what to do but went out and kicked ass anyways.

I really enjoyed the Keys to the Kingdom books. & like you said, they are very hard to describe to other people. But I’ve always loved Garth Nix’s worldbuilding & I think the series is a place where he really gets to just run loose with it.

I really enjoyed the Abhorsen trilogy, even if the cover art was different and quite stylized in Australia. Nix himself is Australian – he lived in the same suburb as me in Sydney, and a librarian friend of mine knew him and had story time with his kids. And that’s my claim to fame!

My favourite part about the series (and what is almost always a plus for me in fantasy/scifi) is the new and internally logically consistent ‘type’ of magic. I loved getting enmeshed in the new set of rules in whatever world I’m in, especially if it goes above and beyond your standard straight-up ‘wizard’ powers.

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