Review of “Goldenhand” by Garth Nix

I was first introduced to the Old Kingdom when I picked up my classroom’s copy of Lirael back when I was in seventh grade. Not knowing that it was the second book in a series, I dove headfirst into the book, losing myself completely in the characters and plot that I rapidly grew to love. Garth Nix’s storytelling prowess blew me away, and left me wanting so much more of the world he created.
Well, that was over nine years ago now, and in that time I’ve devoured every book on the Old Kingdom that Nix has given us. Being out of the loop news-wise, I had no idea that Nix had any intention of continuing the series, so when I picked up Clariel a year or so ago I was blown away by the unexpected return to the world that I had loved as a kid. I was similarly shocked when I saw Goldenhand for the first time, again having had no idea that the book was in the works. It was a total surprise, a completely unexpected gift from whatever god it is that rewards faithful readers with new books.
I’ve reread Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen so many times that I’ve lost count, and my love for them has only grown over the years. I liked Clariel too, don’t get me wrong, but it just wasn’t quite as good as its predecessors, so I was eager to crack open Goldenhand and return to the characters that I had loved from the original three stories.
I suppose I can only blame myself for having such high expectations, but about halfway through Goldenhand I felt a cold, sinking feeling in my stomach that could only mean one thing: I was being disappointed. A couple hours later, after turning the last page and laying the book down on my aunt’s kitchen table, I confirmed that feeling.
For readers that are looking forward to an honest return to the story of Lirael, Goldenhand is simply not the book that they asked for. The novel has a number of problems, from a poorly paced plot to shallow and unconvincing characters. The greatest issue that I had with Goldenhand, however, was that it gave me the distinct impression that Nix has forgotten what exactly it is that he is good at. The greatest strength of the original Old Kingdom trilogy to me was always Nix’s prodigious grasp of worldbuilding. Everything about the series, from the cultural and magical division between the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre, to the fluid mechanics of Charter Magic and the chilling atmosphere of Death, made me want more and more of this fantastical world that was as eerie as it was beautiful.
But there was very little of that world in Goldenhand. The story focuses around a mix of old and new characters that spend the entire first half of the book traveling around the Old Kingdom trying to meet up with each other for reasons that aren’t fully explained until more than two-thirds of the pages are behind you, largely skipping over meaningful “new” descriptions of the world in favor of what I can only describe as nostalgia bait. It’s like reading The Lord of the Rings, except that nobody bothers telling the reader why the Fellowship is taking the ring to Mordor until more than halfway through The Two Towers. Once you finally discover the purpose behind the whole plot, the rest of the action is squished into the last quarter of the book, and the sudden change of pace is highly disorienting. Clariel suffered from an almost identical flaw, which just reinforces my opinion that Nix has forgotten what made the original trilogy good.
The main problem with Goldenhand is that Nix spends a majority of the book trying to build upon the romance between Lirael and Nicholas Sayre that had been hinted at in Abhorsen. For some authors, this is not a problem. However, I am sure that I am not alone when I say that romance is easily Nix’s weakest point as a writer. Every time he attempts to spark chemistry between his characters, his stories become bogged down with awkward and downright cringe-worthy dialogue, and everybody involved just feels completely out of character. Lirael spends much of her time in this story talking to Nick, and while doing so she is almost completely unrecognizable as the Lirael that we had come to know and love. As for the rest of the Old Kingdom cast, well, they might as well not even be in the book. Touchstone and Sabriel are conveniently “on vacation” for the majority of the story, and Sam doesn’t even show up until the last fifty pages or so.
Goldenhand was Nix’s chance to give his readers something that they had been waiting over a decade for: a genuine return to the characters that we had grown to love from his Old Kingdom trilogy. Instead, what we got felt more like a bad fanfic, as if Nix had completely forgotten how to write his own characters. The characters were unrecognizable, while the plot was awkward and simplistic. To make matters worse, Nix completely flubbed the main plot twist of the story, with the so-called mysterious identity of the “Witch With No Face” being impossible not to guess after a mere two chapters, which did a spectacular job of killing any degree of suspense that the plot may have had.
In short, though I do appreciate Nix for continuing to make content for this series that I love, I honestly wish he hadn’t.

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