Friday, 11 February 2011

Across the water!

Well, not in that direction. Today we're heading to Australia, the home of Garth Nix, the undisputed master of teen fantasy fiction. Nix has written more books than you can shake a stick at, and if I were to try to write them all down I'd definitely miss some! Suffice it to say that from the Old Kingdom series to the Keys to the Kingdom series, passing through the Seventh Tower series on the way, you and your child will be well catered for.

There's a good variety of age-suitable reading here, from the Old Kingdom series which contains a lot of horror and some adult themes, through to the Keys to the Kingdom series, an enjoyable fantasy romp suitable for slightly younger but adept children. The books are definitely ones for transitional readers, and they're a little more edgy than traditional children's fare.

Nix has a wonderful way with words and with characters, and manages to pull off the reluctant-and-less-able hero every time, which you'd think would eventually get boring. For readers who prefer a bit of sci fi in the mix, he also wrote Shade's Children, which is very different from his usual fantasy style, and also contains one or two adult themes.

As a writer, Nix might tend to stick to fantasy, but a lot of his books have an enjoyable blend of science and magic which serves to make them a lot more accessible to the reader than most fantasy novels are. Another factor in this is his excellent use of characters. Whether it's Tal in the Seventh Tower series, or Arthur Penhaligon in the Keys to the Kingdom series, they are immediately human, and very easy to identify with.

But his talent doesn't end there. In Sabriel, the first book in the Old Kingdom series, Nix writes the eponymous female character so real that you'd almost think he'd been a woman. This might sound a little petty, but fantasy is quite often a male-dominated field (and also usually a plot rather than character driven field), and so to find a believable female character is always a godsend, especially for girls who might otherwise be put off from fantasy.

So, how readable are they? Well, these books are accessible pretty instantly, as they explain the various fantasy worlds without the need for pages of description, and they have some excellent characters. Once you've got that far, they've also got some pretty rip-roaring plots. But as always with fantasy, not all kids are going to like it, and that's especially true of those who might find reading difficult. If they do get into the series, I'd say that they'll find them a total gem, but some kids are put off by the idea of magic and myth, and they're just not going to like Nix's stuff. I was personally a little disappointed with the end of the Keys to the Kingdom series, but I can't speak for all his readers there. Overall, a fantastic set of books for any kid who likes, or might like fantasy. Oh, and Garth Nix? It might be the perfect name for fantasy, but it's his real name.

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