by Garth Nix
In this first book of his ongoing series titled The Keys to the Kingdom
, author Garth Nix introduces us to a young hero-to-be named Arthur Penhaligon. He doesnt seem like much of a hero, at first; but, in what may be the one flaw in Nixs writing, we get a thorough introduction to the boys complicated background along with a lot of fussy, unnecessary details about his family life. It boils down to this: Arthur is the youngest, adopted child of a rock star and an infectious-disease expert; he has bad asthma; and on his first Monday at a new school, he finds out that everyone in his class has to do a cross-country run unless they have a letter of excuse. He doesnt have such a letter, and so he is forced to run in spite of his asthma and almost dies as a result.
His adventure begins as he hovers on the edge of oblivion: an adventure in a world so weird and original that we only figure out what is going on at about the rate at which Arthur does. It has to do with a House built by the Architect of the Universe at the center of her (yes, thats right, her) work. A House with, to coin a phrase, many mansions. Only the Architect has gone away, leaving the House in the care of seven Trustees named after the days of the week; each of whom can only take action in the Secondary Realms (such as Earth) on his or her respective day of the week.
The Trustees have broken their trust, however. Tearing the will into seven fragments, the Trustees have hidden those fragments away and continued to lord it over their respective areas of the House. But now, the first part of the Will has escaped and found its way to Arthur, along with part of the key to Mister Mondays realm. Somehow, Arthur has been pegged as the Rightful Heir, who must take on each of the Trustees in turn, release their portions of the will, and claim their keys and the powers they wield. Thats asking a lot of a boy who sometimes has a hard time getting air into his lungs! Yet as Arthur proves to be smart, courageous, and honorable, it begins to appear that the Will has chosen rightly.
Taking on Mister Monday wont be easy, though. Arthur will have to deal with powers he has never imagined before, in a House whose bizarre rules and history he has not begun to learn to say nothing of its dangers! Before he gets anywhere, he must face rampaging dinosaurs, clockwork nightmares, solid-metal policemen, a friends betrayal, a trip up a really twisted stairway, an encounter with the devil, and a pit full of venomous snakes, and thats all besides the powerful and dangerous servants of Mister Monday. A lot rides on Arthur beating all these odds: for one thing, his family and friends are threatened by a plague that he can only stop if he gains control of Mondays key.
Religious Christians and Jews may be either intrigued or disturbed by the fantasy world Nix has dreamed up. It resonates with, and differs from, the Judaeo-Christian structure of the world just enough to seem, at times, to be taking clever pokes at such beliefs. Questions about creation and evolution, the existence of God, the nature of angels, and whether there is an afterlife will be addressed in ways that establish this fantasy world as a truly creative achievement and that may give religious and non-religious parents something to discuss with their children.
It seems there is at least one other remnant of Christian philosophy in this series: the Seven Deadly Sins. I spotted that this would be a theme in The Keys to the Kingdom (a title which, itself, is a reference to the Bible) already in this first book, where Mister Monday represents the vice of Sloth. Having read the next two books in the series, I can confirm my own suspicions that each of the Morrow Days will embody one of the Seven Deadly Sins. This adds not only a level of ethical and philosophical significance to the books, but it also ensures that Arthur will face a huge variety of enemies and challenges just as each fragment of the Will, and each domain within the House, has its own character and shape.
Book 2, Grim Tuesday, and Book 3, Drowned Wednesday, are already available in paperback as I write this. Plus, Sir Thursday is out in hardcover, and Lady Friday is set to be released in 2007.
Recommended Age: 12+
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