Series: Abhorsen #3.5
Published by Allen & Unwin
Published on January 2016
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A collection of Garth Nix's best short stories, including a novella set in the Old Kingdom of Sabriel and Clariel.
Nicholas Sayre will do anything to get across the wall, back to the Old Kingdom. Thoughts of Lirael and Sam haunt his dreams. But here in Ancelstierre the charter is dormant, and before Nick can re-join his friends he must face one of the rarest and most dangerous of the Free Magic creatures: a creature that seems to draw power from Nicholas himself.
'Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case' opens this superb collection of short stories from Garth Nix, which range from classic fantasy to a gritty urban version of Hansel and Gretel, and an unusual take on the role of nature in matters of the heart.
This is a review of just the novella in this collection, ‘Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case’. It is not a review of the complete book.
It’s six months after the combined magic of the Charter defeated the Destroyer, and Nick is back in Ancelstierre, reluctantly attending a house party on behalf of his uncle, the Chief Minister. But what lurks behind the frivolous façade is Department 13, a legal entity for exploring the oddities in the Old Kingdom. There, Nick comes across a terrifying Old Kingdom creature locked in an ancient case. It should be dormant this far from the Wall, but Nick can feel that it’s alive and waiting for something…
That something is Nick’s Charter magic. When Nick is betrayed and his blood fed to the creature, it comes alive and rampages across the house, indiscriminately killing party guests and government employees alike, Nick is the only one who knows where the creature comes from and how he might stop it. But with the Abhorsen so far away in the Old Kingdom, what can Nick do to stop a hyped-up Free Magic creature driven by a madman willing to betray his own kind?
Although this is a novella, it packs a punch. It’s quite scary and thrilling to read, especially because Nick doesn’t have any magical powers or items to help him defeat a monster from across the wall. But Nick really shines in this story, his leadership skills, canny observations, cunning, and quick intelligence able to help him in his desperate quest to stop the creature returning to the Old Kingdom even as he wishes to return there himself. It doesn’t even seem that short because there’s plenty of action and even a bit of humour, but it does give more of a look at Ancelstierrans and especially the upper class who would rather stand around screaming than do something useful to save their own lives, and who don’t even believe in magic and necromancy to begin with.
I haven’t read Goldenhand yet, but I know it stars Nick and Lirael. That ship might very well have started in this novella, so I can’t quite speculate whether this is essential reading for the Old Kingdom series. I think if you can get your hands on it, you’re going to enjoy a clever, scary story about Nick and get more of a look at the so far kind of sidelined Ancelstierrans.