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Mister Monday: The Keys of the Kingdom #1

by Garth Nix

trade paperback edition

You know that bit from the Lord's Prayer about "Thy Will be done"? Garth Nix must have spent a lot of time staring at it before writing Mister Monday, the first book of "The Keys of the Kingdom". Nix portrays a Creation run as a vast Firm, bequeathed in the Will of the departed Architect to mortals. But the Trustees of the Will broke it into seven pieces, and locked up the pieces in desolate, hidden places guarded by scary things that also have Capitalized Names. When one piece of the Will breaks free, it drafts an asthmatic schoolboy named Arthur to put everything to rights. Arthur finds himself in possession of a magic Key, pursued by terrifying, smelly men with dog faces, and haunted by an impossibly huge House that no one else can see.

Mister Monday is going to be compared to Harry Potter frequently because the protagonist is, you know, a boy. Despite this egregious similarity, it reminded me most strongly of Neil Gaiman's work in tone, imagery, and the tendency to vigorously stir old myths into new inventions.

There's an appealing sense of order and craft about the world Arthur enters, even in the bits that are growing frayed around the edges. Numerology plays a large part, as does clockwork, and there's a veneer of ragged Victorian gentility over the whole thing for no better reason than that its inhabitants enjoy waistcoats and top hats. Nix has put a great deal of care into the construction of his world, and so has his fictional creator of that world, and both efforts are endearing.

The writing is wonderfully visual, full of bright colors and striking pictures. Nix continues to create some of the scariest monsters in the business. He also plays games with the usual cliches. The boy and girl who are obviously going to be Arthur's new bosom friends, and the fallen functionary who ought to become Arthur's loyal follower, don't seem to have read the instructions in the Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Arthur himself is passionate and determined, but oddly lacking in personality.

I had to dig for this book in the Children's section at Borders. Mister Monday is written to a younger audience than Sabriel and Lirael were, and it lacks their depth and charm. On the other hand, it weighs much less. There are still six sequels for Nix to fill with detail, and he drops hints of hidden depths. I'm particularly curious about the differences between our timeline and Arthur's, which seems to have been plagued with, well, plagues. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

Then he led the way to the ditch and stared down at the bibliophages. There were thousands of them. Snakes. Every one at least four feet long. Arthur felt his mouth drying up as he watched them writhe and coil around one another. He and Suzy would have to literally wade through this mass of snakes. He hadn't even asked if they bit as well as spat.

And he didn't have any underwear on.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
July 2003

trade paperback edition
Publisher: Scholastic
Date: July 2003
ISBN: 0-439-55123-4
Binding: trade paperback
Pages: 361
Price: US $5.99

If you like this book, you will probably also enjoy:

Garth Nix: Shade's Children

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman: Coraline

Lisa Goldstein: Dark Cities Underground
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Jul 2003 / CMS