by Garth Nix
This is the third book in the Old Kingdom series and the end of the trilogy. In this book the myriad plots and army of the Necromancer Hedge converge and the heroes roll their dice to try and stop the no shit end of the world. Now usually I don't like end of the world plots. They're overdone and I have a really hard time buying anyone actually ending the world. No seriously think about it. What possible benefit do you get from ending the world? There's no good loot, no one to boss around, you can't even gloat to anyone because they're all dead! I get wanting to take over the world. I get building a doomsday device as a last ditch defense against the heroes or villains (I live in a country that did it! What else would you call our nuclear weapon stockpile?). But making ending the world plan A? I mean even the vampires on Buffy admitted that they were just trying to look tough for the girls when they talked about it. That said, Hedge, our wonderful, genius, psychopath of a villain pulls it off and makes me believe that he would do it and gives me plenty of reason as to why. Better, he does it in 20 words or less. To be blunt about it, Hedge is motivated by a very human fear and his determination to
Hedge remains one of my favorite villains (it's not his personality here, it's his sheer effectiveness) in this review series, which is interesting because we don't really spend a lot of time with him. We don't know his origins, we don't know the roots of his motives, but in the end... We really don't have to. His fear is a human one, Hedge is motivated by a desire to avoid death at all cost. What pushes him beyond the bounds of human behavior is the fact that he doesn't care for any other living being in the entire universe. Because of that, he doesn't care if everyone has to pay the price just as long as he can avoid going pass the 9th gate of death (I'll get to this). I don't know how much of Hedge's operations are a result of Nix's service in the Australian Army Reserve and are just dumb luck but I got to state again I am very impressed. Hedge's consistently chooses tactics that split his enemies forces, isolates enemies in places he is strong and they are weak and keeps them reacting rather then launching their own plans or having the time to consider their tactics in depth. Throw in his willingness to confront his enemies head on without support, although to be fair he never confronts the strongest of his enemies (Sabriel) one on one instead choosing to use minions for that. Seriously, the NCO's who taught me tactics in the Marines would have to give grudging approval to Hedge's operations here. Hell the good guys have an entire family of people who can look into the future and he's still managing to get them on the ropes and preserve my suspension of disbelief. Anyways, all of this forces Sam and Lirael to undertake rather risky and dangerous moves to counter him.
What are Sam and Lirael up to you ask? Well they're going to have go places no one has gone and survived to dodge the armies of the dead that Hedge sent after them. At the same time they have to deal with the possibility of betrayal from within as events leave Mogget's loyalty (which is never really all that firm in the first place let's be honest) in question. We see a lot more of Disreputable Dog, who remains a big favorite of mine and we get to explore just what the hell Mogget and Disreputable Dog really are and what they know. Mogget's true nature could have been better hinted at and foreshadowed, I mean there are clues in the book, but not in the last two. Which makes me wonder if this is something Mr. Nix's just came up with in the last book. The Disreputable Dog's grant reveal wasn't that great of a shock to me, but well... It's been clear since she showed up that she wasn't just some random dog spirit. I got to be honest, I would really like to see more stories set with Lirael and Disreputable Dog going on adventurers. Maybe some short stories set in her days of clearing the Library of monsters?
We also get to learn more about free magic and get to see more of Death, including the fabled 9th gate of Death, beyond which there is no return. I thought the 9th gate was rather well done. As always I like the voyages into Death. Given some questions I got I feel I have to clarify things though. Death is not the after life, but rather the border between the afterlife and life itself. People and things who refuse to accept their deaths hang around here trying to get back into life. Necromancers can go into Death to recruit or destroy these spirits. Death is divided into 9 parts or wards, separated by gates, the more gates you pass the closer you get to the afterlife. The deeper you go into Death, the greater the pull to just go all the way and go into the afterlife. Death itself has a water theme, with that pull is shown as the current of water. This ties back in a clever way to the weaknesses of the dead, for example because Death is spiritually a river that moves you towards the afterlife, the Dead cannot cross running water (I wonder how the ocean effects them on that? In the first book we saw the just being on the sea really weakened Free Magic... Hmmm). I've said it before and I'll say it again, I really liked that. The whole magic system is really interesting and I would like to learn more.
We get to see Lirael, who only learned that she was the Abhorsen in waiting at the end of the last book really get into her necromanctic duties and we get to see Sam really settle into his own role. I got to admit I like Sam more in this book then in Lirael. I suppose freed of the expectation of becoming a necromancer allowed him to grow into a fairly good person and someone who can pull his weight in a quest to save the world. Which is a good thing because that's what he's on. In fact towards the end of the book he gets a pretty cool moment of awesome where he confronts his fear with literally nothing but his will and a set of blowpipes. Yes, you read that right and it's amazing. Lirael herself learns to make peace with the fact that she won't ever get to foresee the future like the rest of her family but that her own gifts (such as looking into the past) are just as important. We also get to spend some time with Nick, Sam's friend from Brit... I mean Ancelstierre of course! He is from an important political family so his being hijacked by an evil spirit and used by Hedge to give him cover to set up forces in Ancelstierre is kind of... Bloody hindering awkward problem. Despite being possessed by something older then our species, Nick manages to put up a good fight though and tries his damnest to contribute to team good guy. You really can't ask for much more then that. Ancelstierre is having it's own problems with a bloody coup kicking off the book resulting in distracting the military and civil authorities at the worse possible time! Which adds to the sheer oh crap factor I feel
The book also tries to hint at the idea of Lirael and Nick hooking up together but I didn't really feel the chemistry beyond Lirael running into a boy her own age that she could talk to and she wasn't related to. To be fair I wasn't completely sold on Sabriel and Touchstone as a couple either. Either Mr. Nix isn't that great at this, or I'm fairly dense on these matters. I will leave that decision up to my readers, course y'all will have to read this series before you can really discuss if I'm missing hint's that Mr. Nix is dropping. Isn't that just a pity?
Most of this story is a desperate race against time to stop Hedge from completing his mission, it works fairly well, although from time to time the characters seem to forget that they're racing against the clock. I also found Disreputable Dog's increasingly strange unwillingness to explain the threat to Lirael kinda infuriating. Is it really that hard to just tell them what's going on and not tap dance around the point? Is there some sort of magical spirit by-law that states you can never actually just tell people things but you have to lead them around until they find the information by other means? Most of the book manages to maintain a level of urgency and desperation that hovers on the edge of despair. You can't even blame them either as Hedge seems to have a plan B, C and D just to delay them another 5 minutes. Lucky for everyone that Lirael has learned to be quick on her feet and Sam is pretty damn relentless. It's a close run fight right down to the last chapter as they confront Hedge, his chief servant Chlorr and Hedge's master itself and I enjoyed it.
That said the book isn't perfect. Like I said I have a problem buying the romantic relationships that Mr. Nix is displaying. Additionally I needed more foreshadowing to buy Mogget's true nature. I mean it holds up when I think about it and poke at it... But this is something you build up a little more to. I'm the kind of guy who likes it when the reveal comes and I go “Of Course! Everything fits together now!” instead of “Wait... What? Where did that come from?” I also would have liked to spend more time with the characters. Like the first book Sabriel, I feel like Mr. Nix doesn't give us enough time with the characters and let us get to know them. That's offset by the amount of character work put into Lirael (although more work was put into Lirael then Sam but you can't have everything). Basically I guess I'm asking for another 50 pages that would just be character stuff for myself. I shouldn't carp to much about, at least Mr. Nix can bloody well finish a story and tell it well under a 1000 pages (That's right! I'm looking at you Sanderson! Way of Kings did not need to be that damn long! I read Mistborn, I know you can tell a story without rambling on like that!). In fact I kinda feel Abhorsen was cut off from Lirael for reasons of length as they really do tell separate parts of a single story. At least this one didn't end on a cliff hanger though.
Everything considered though? I really liked this book, Lirael remains a favorite character that I hope to see more of and the book let Sam do the growing up he needed to address my issues with him. It also gave me thrilling heroics, incredible magic and a battle to save the world. It manages to make me believe that someone would choose to end the world for selfish and in the end pointless reasons. Because of these reasons Abhorsen gets an A. I really encourage everyone to give this series a shot.
Next week, we go back to independent books, as I need to find out what happened to a certain Seedbearing Prince who got himself shoved into the belly of the beast. Literally.