Progress in the Land of No Progress: Goldenhand by Garth Nix

Goldenhand | Garth Nix | first read | 344/344 (ARC)

Garth Nix could write practically anything into this series and I would freefall into it. I read a lot of books, I quit reading a lot of books partway through, and not every book I read makes me want the next page, at the end of every single page. The Abhorsen books can be relied on to make me feel completely safe with the writer. The world is beautiful. The protagonists with grit are more or less all women. Male protagonists, excitingly, tend to wilt at the edges even when they’re noble and determined–there’s old Touchstone, Sam is a rare noncombatant, and Nick is a VESSEL who spends most of this book in a swoon. Meanwhile Lirael is a dead-banishing past-seeing superlibrarian, and Sabriel is a dad-avenging dead-banishing superqueen, and Ferin is…what is Ferin? Ferin is tough and precise and funny and dangerous. Even the big bad is a complicated woman. The male villains are subordinate to her.

I really trust Garth Nix. Starting Goldenhand felt like actual relief, and just kept feeling that way. I wondered something, though, which: where can the Old Kingdom go? There are so many intricately imagined things–the clothes, the swords, the black mirror, the magic books, the practice of named necromantic bells, the enemy Chlorr–but except in Chlorr’s own story, in Clariel, almost everything they touch is old. Sabriel and Lirael depend on old writings, the librarians and Clayr are outfitted and organized by ancient tradition, their magic allies are ancient Mogget and the spirit of a bell–the origins of which are still obscure. When you pair this together with the way machined items from Ancelstierre, across the wall, fall apart when they enter the Old Kingdom, it makes you wonder where the Old Kingdom (aptly named) can ever go from where it is. It’s a country whose allure is conjured by ancient mysteries. But, being a country of living people, doesn’t it need to be able to progress in some way?

This book even remarks repeatedly on the dwindling of the Abhorsens–Sabriel and Lirael are both HARD CORE, let it not be doubted, but apparently there used to be a lot of them, hanging out in huge fancy suites in the Clayr’s glacier sleeping on beds stuffed with hundreds of geese worth of feathers, which are still the same mattresses HOW many years later? Aside from the disappearance of Abhorsen groups, PLEASE, YOU NEED A NEW MATTRESS, THAT MUST BE SO DUSTY INSIDE.

At one time, all the things our protagonists rely on were created. Before the frequently mentioned interregnum? Now, only Sam seems to be creating treasures that are new, with his golden charter magic prosthetic and other inventions. He seems to me like a good start, but I want significantly more of that. We have a lovely band of heroes now; we’ve seen the wondrous and frightening things that can be dredged up from the deep past. I hope that the next time we visit the Old Kingdom, the adventure is in creating things new.

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