The Left-Handed Booksellers of London
By: Garth Nix
In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.
Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.
Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.
Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.
Finally, a book I loved. It’s been so long I was starting to think something was wrong. I’m a Garth Nix fan, but I don’t always love his books. Sabriel was one of the first female-led fantasy books I read, and I still go back and re-read it.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London starts with a great tagline on the cover, “Authorized to kill, and sell books.”
Set in 1983, Susan is in London, the summer before university starts, to search for her father. It ends up being a lot more complicated than she previously thought.
At the beginning of her search, she meets a member of a family of booksellers. He also happens to battle mythic and legendary creatures. His world is complicated and scary, but Susan handles it very well. She was calm and cool, with the occasional what the hell is happening moments. It’s a fine line to balance, but Nix did a great job.
There are very few lulls in the story, with something almost always happening. It managed not to be exhausting, though. There was a nice little romance between two of the characters and an entertaining family dynamic that helped with the pace. I thought it was cool that Merlin was gender fluid or non-binary. It was never explained; it was just who he was. It was the first time I’ve read a character like him.
The book didn’t get as dark as Sabriel does, but there is still a satisfying climactic conclusion. It’s written like a standalone book, but I would love to see more. The world of the booksellers was fascinating, and I liked all of the characters.