Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mister Monday by Garth Nix

My first experience with Garth Nix was reading Sabriel, which I picked up on a whim. It was a fabulous book, set in a world I found incredibly compelling, with an unusual storyline and a unique heroine. So I knew that Nix's imagination clicked with me. Because Lord Sunday has just been released, the seventh and final volume in The Keys to the Kingdom series, I've been seeing a lot of Nix's name around, and I've been meaning to read something else by him. So planning vacation reading, I pulled Mister Monday off the shelf and added it to the pile.

Nix's imagination doesn't disappoint this time around, either. This series is aimed at a younger audience than his Abhorsen books, but I always like it when an author doesn't make too many concessions to that. It feels younger, but it doesn't read any less well; I didn't feel it was talking down to anyone. Arthur Penhaligon is in seventh grade, starting at a new school, and severely asthmatic. On his first day, he discovers that he's supposed to participate in a cross-country run, and he hasn't been granted an exemption because he didn't know about it ahead of time. So he runs anyways, and of course has a dangerous attack -- and while he's flat on his back, waiting for help, two strange men appear out of nowhere and give him a piece of pointy metal. The Key seems to cure his asthma, but it brings a lot of other problems with it, such as being able to see and hear things that no one else can -- not to mention what appears to be a nasty plague, strange dog-like creatures, and a man with bloody wings and a fiery sword who is feeling none too friendly towards Arthur.

There is action and adventure, and Arthur is a great hero -- plagued with self-doubt, big fears, and working against Time itself to try and figure out what's going on with very incomplete information. At least at first he's on his own because the only people who believe him are incapacitated by the plague, and he's not sure who to trust; but he does have good instincts and a desire to do what needs to get done, no matter the cost to himself. He doesn't, as too many fantasy heroes based in our reality seem to do, spend a lot of time disbelieving what is right in front of him, and I appreciate that; he does have just enough doubts to make his reaction believable.

And the world! Imaginative and well-described. With the help of the Key, Arthur makes his way into the House, the place where everything that happens in our world (we are one of the Secondary Realms) gets recorded and archived. And this is a strange, fascinating place indeed. We see it as Arthur does, without truly understanding what the heck is going on until he gets explanations from the people who inhabit the House. There are threads of myth, fairytale, and religion woven throughout the book, and it's fun to see these crop up. The other characters are fascinating, too. The ones from Arthur's own world are somewhat background, at least for now, although there are seven books so I suspect we'll get to know some of them better. The ones from the Lower House, where the bulk of the book takes place, are really interesting and often bizarre. Most are inhuman and strange, despite their appearances, and others are very human. I was particularly interested by the Will, who is Arthur's guide through the House, who is clearly working towards its own ends and not particularly interested in happens to Arthur besides. It's not often we find a knowledgeable guide-character in kids' fantasy who is not completely benevolent and has only the best interests of the hero at heart.

I also really enjoyed that the interactions between our world and the fantasy world had ramifications for more than just Arthur; and I liked the way those ramifications were portrayed. The book is set at some indeterminate point in the future when there has been a world-wide outbreak of deadly influenza, leading to some terribly draconian quarantine laws and also some emotional and physical scarring of our hero. So when the consequences of the Mister Monday's actions are manifest as some sort of mysterious and rapidly-spreading illness, the governmental quarantine apparatus springs into high gear and we get just a glimpse of how frightening government-gone-overboard can be. I thought that was a really nice touch. Not overdone, just there and something our hero is aware of and therefore so is the reader.

Overall, definitely recommended. Fans of Harry Potter and similar will enjoy this one, and I certainly intend to read the next in the series soon.


Cecelia said...

So glad you liked this one! I recommend it rather indiscriminately, but I know that it's more appealing to people who 'get' Garth Nix's writing. You'll like the rest of the series, too...the suspense keeps flowing, and each adventure seems more fantastic than the last. Great review!

Unknown said...

Thanks celi.a! I'm looking forward to it. The ending was a wee bit of a cliffhanger, so I'll have to pick up the next one soon.

Ana S. said...

I loved the Sabriel series and have let this one sit unread on my pile for far too long. Thank you for the nudge - unless other shiny books distract me (always a possibility :P) I'll try to get to it soon.

Unknown said...

Nymeth - Shiny distractions prevented me from picking this one up for a while, too! It's nice that the entire series is published now, though, so I won't be sitting and waiting for the last one.

Marg said...

I've read the whole of this series now, and for the most part enjoyed them, but I did find a couple of the books a bit less well written than the others. I am hoping to get to Sabriel soon.

Unknown said...

Marg, I think Sabriel is better than Mister Monday, though they're both quite good. I'll be interested to see what you think of it!