It’s still 1983 London, and Susan Arkshaw is trying her best to have a normal life. That’s kind of difficult, considering her father is an ancient creature of magic and her boyfriend is basically a wizard. Still, Susan is working very hard to separate the two parts of her life… until Merlin gets trapped in a magical map and they need both Susan’s power and artistic ability to get him out. Oh, and there’s, like, a giant living statue that’s killing people. It’s time for everyone to meet The Sinister Booksellers of Bath.
The Sinister Booksellers of Bath returns us to the world of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London. (Sinister, of course, being an archaic term for “left-handed”.) Author Garth Nix has crafted a tale that seamlessly picks up where the first book left off, while also expanding the world. Most importantly, it deals with the consequences of the events of the previous book, which were, you know, kind of a big deal.
Susan has set boundaries regarding the Booksellers – including how much time she spends with Merlin – because she can feel herself changing, becoming more like her father. And the thought scares her, as I imagine it would scare anyone. I really love how Nix explores the changes in Susan’s life, and how that will spill over and affect all of the other aspects. It’s also great to see those times Susan leans into her newfound powers in order to do the right thing. While the prose is very quick and snappy, leaving little time for introspection, there still manages to be plenty of time devoted to Susan and what’s happening to her.
I will admit to being a little less charmed by Susan in this second outing. For starters, while I can understand that she is desperate for a normal life after her world was completely upended, I really disliked how dismissive she was of the danger she was in. It’s also frustrating how she could be very sanctimonious about not getting her hands dirty but be perfectly willing to have others do the hard work. I know that she was concerned about losing too much of herself to her new powers, and to be fair, she did basically perform a one-woman rescue operation by the end.
Let’s just say that Merlin and Vivien continue to be my favorites.
What this second book does is give us a larger look at the world of the Booksellers. In addition to being introduced to an entirely new crop of them (the ones who work in Bath), we learn a little more about some of the other entities that they deal with, and how sometimes they have very human followers who are just as dangerous. In this case, there is an ancient being who inhabits statues made of a very specific type of marble that has been kidnapping and killing people for years in order to power a time-stopping spell needed to keep their half-human daughter from succumbing to a rare form of cancer. You know, just another Tuesday.
Unfortunately, expanding the world causes some minor issues. The larger cast is a nice touch; we know from the previous book that this is a giant clan, so it wouldn’t be realistic to have only Susan, Merlin, and Vivien fighting on their own. However, I didn’t get much of a sense of personality from most of the newer people – not the way I did with the characters introduced in the first book.
There is also the problem of pacing. The first part of the book is really interesting, with Susan and Vivien going into an enchanted map to rescue Merlin. And the last, say, fifty pages are also quite engrossing as everyone races to save the next sacrifice before the Winter Solstice, thereby breaking the spell. But the middle is kind of a slog with a lot of research. Not that much happens, but the lack of plot isn’t balanced with any real meaningful character development.
Plus, while Tolkien had his endless descriptions of food, Nix devotes a lot of time to details like the kinds of cars being driven, the weapons used, and what Merlin is wearing. I could deal with less of that, and more of the magic or character interactions. I feel that not enough time was spent explaining the Wild Hunt, and they ended up being kind of important in the end.
In short, while The Sinister Booksellers of Bath has all the wit and charm of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, it suffers a bit from what I like to call “second book syndrome”. If you enjoyed The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, I’m sure you will enjoy this book as well. But I also don’t think the world will end if you skip this second outing.
The Sinister Booksellers of Bath by Garth Nix is published by HarperTeen and is currently available wherever books are sold.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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