The Sinister Booksellers of Bath by Garth Nix

“Does what it says on the tin” is a lovely Britishism for a lovely British book because The Sinister Booksellers of Bath keeps the promises that it makes. It’s a direct sequel to The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, picking up a few months after the end of that story. Merlin and Susan are still together, though they are going through some typical young-people uncertainties. Merlin remains his enthusiastic, beautiful, fashionable self and can’t quite fathom why Susan only wants to see him once a week or so, but he’s smart enough to keep a good thing going and is giving her space. In Susan’s case the misgivings are deeper, though not about Merlin per se, because her first adventure with him revealed that she has strong ties to the Old World of magic and myth that permeates Britain just below the surface of modernity. She would prefer to just get on with her hard-won place as an art student, thank you very much, and leave magic to get along without her as it has clearly done for hundreds of years.

The Sinister Booksellers of Bath by Garth Nix

Unfortunately, the Old World has other ideas, and that means that the booksellers who keep the Old and the New separate have other ideas too. Worse for all concerned, Bath appears to be home to an Old World entity that had been previously unknown to the booksellers. They don’t know what it is, where it is, or what it wants, but the available evidence suggests that it’s into periodic murder, and that it’s due to try again soon, probably at the winter solstice when the ranks of the booksellers are stretched thin anyway. Susan starts to look like the ideal victim, though of course she is not without defenses of her own. But then Merlin gets trapped in a pocket universe, and then stone statues of lions come to life and attack the booksellers’ main shop in Bath. Things are looking bad with nearly two weeks still to go before the solstice.

Nix promises action at a breakneck pace, and he delivers at speed. So many frying pans turning into so many fires. There is humor to leaven the tension, but Sinister Booksellers is all about people facing an unknown menace with not nearly enough time or resources to solve the problems that keep multiplying. They have ingenuity, they have each other, they have a bit of magic, and they have the occasional application of high explosives; it will have to be enough. I read Sinister Booksellers at the wet and chilly tail end of winter when I was feeling a bit poorly, and it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

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