Wednesday, January 6, 2016

To Hold the Bridge

by Garth Nix

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • Charter magic! Gloriously competent bridgemistresses! Beings of terrible power! Sherlock Holme's odd cousin! An annoyingly invasive Rapunzel!
  • Basically, a collection of short stories both original and fun, with some fascinating worlds and splendid characters.

And Why You Might Not:
  • There are a lot of stories in this book, and sometimes reading too many short stories by the same author in a row makes each story loose its distinction.
  • Some individual stories were less good or enjoyable than others, of course, although you'll get that in any decently large collection like this.

Thoughts: First some notes on individual stories that struck me for one reason or another, and then a few quick general thoughts:

--The first and longest is the title story "To Hold the Bridge", and it might possibly be my favourite. It made me want to devote my life to a master or mistress and become as skilled as possible at something. Also Bridgemistress Amiel! Garth Nix writes some amazing female characters sometimes, especially in the "Old Kingdom" stories. (Lirael, from that series, is probably among my top ten favourite female heroines. I really like her.)
--"Vampire Weather" was a bout a Christian cult, so I didn't enjoy it much. I know that cults like that exist, obviously. But they're used so often as the force of evil in a story that it bothers me. I'd like more stories with a close community of people that are actually intelligent and helped by the fact that they live in a Christian community.
--There were quite a few that were just so great in world-building and characterization. "Old Friends" and "Peace in Our Time" and that Lovecraft/Sherlock mix "The Curious Case of the Moondawn Daffodils Murder" especially. These are the stories that I wanted moooooore of. I want to know what the world is like, what the characters were like before they were mentioned in the story, why everything was happening, really as much as I possibly can. They never felt incomplete, but there was such great potential.
--"A Handful of Ashes" is similarly awesome, although I'd read it before in a different collection (Under My Hat) so it didn't stand out this time around. Great story, though, with great characters.
--The coming of age stories, like "Quiet Knight" weren't really my thing. When I first started reading it, I thought there was an overabundance of young men falling for pretty girls. It got better as it went along, for sure, but I probably could have done without most of them. There's a reason why I don't read much Contemporary YA.
--I don't think I can quite say I liked "The Heart of the City", but it was definitely interesting. For one thing, it's one of the few stories that does angels well. People forget that when someone sees an angel, their first reaction is usually terror. They're not just a nice, faintly-shining humans with wings. (And they're not the type of creatures who could fall in love with humans. Grrrr. Also those famous artists who draw chubby, baby angels... Sigh.) I'm not sure if I've read such an interesting angel portrayal since Madeleine L'Engle and C. S. Lewis.
--"Master Haddad's Holiday" is apparently in the same world as A Confusion of Princes, which makes me want to read the book very much.

So there we go. Definitely some good ones in there, but I think they might have been more memorable in a collection with different authors. Not Nix's fault, of course. More mine for reading this book very quickly.

In my opinion, Garth Nix is at his best when dealing with original worlds and either female or adult characters. The only young male character in any of his books I can think of right now that I actually like is Nicholas Sayer (who I really liked, so he makes up for a lot). And some of the stories in a relatively normal world were a bit boring for me. But once he gets into world-building mode, there's few I like better.

Grade: 3 stars (3 1/2 stars, minus 1/2 star for the fact that it lacks memorability in my mind for some reason; possibly because I read it too fast without alternating with other things? But also because as much as I loved a couple of them, there were a bunch that were merely good or meh.)

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