Across the Wall (Abhorsen #3.5) – Garth Nix

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Summary:

Thoughts of Lirael and Sam haunt his dreams, and he has come to realize that his destiny lies with them, in the Old Kingdom. But here in Ancelstierre, Nick faces an obstacle that is not entirely human, with a strange power that seems to come from Nicholas himself.

With Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case Garth Nix continues to explore the magical world of the Abhorsen Trilogy. In additional short stories that range from two widely different takes on the Merlin myth to a gritty urban version of Hansel and Gretel and a heartbreaking story of children and war, Garth Nix displays the range and versatility that has made him one of today’s leading writers of fantasy for readers of all ages.

Review:

So, I decided to pick this up after my last Stacking the Shelves post and since it was open on my Kindle, I just decided to go ahead and read it.

Described as “Abhorsen 3.5” the reason that I – and let’s be honest – most people – are going to pick up this short story collection is because of the novella Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case,  which is the inspiration for the next novel. The only way to get your hands on this currently is either to import the printed version or pick up this collection. The Kindle version of the collection will cost about the same as just the novella, so it’s your call as to what you want to do. So is it worth picking up for that? Does it work better than most tie-in novellas?

Not really.

The story is pretty straight forward: set some months after the events of Abhorsen, Nicholas has come to decide that he needs to rejoin Lirael and Sameth in the Old Kingdom. His uncle promises to give him the Permit he needs to do so if he attends a house party for a few days. At said party we meet the head of a (very clichéd) shadowy Ancelstierre spy organization. Said spymaster has captured a Free Magic creature, and, not unlike Nick to Hedge, falls prey to its control. The second half of the story is basically an action set-piece, which to be honest, I’ve always found to be uninteresting to read. You can see where the ending does lend itself to being a springboard for a new work, and there is some interest piqued in regards to Nick as he is now, but there’s just not much here and it can easily be summarized in a paragraph or two in the new book.

Okay then, so what about the rest?

A large chunk of this text (the next single largest story, actually) is a Choose Your Own Adventure style read called Down to Scum Quarter, and is one of the earliest things he published. It is “funny” and the quotations are intended, as in the introduction he stressed at great length the importance of humor in fantasy. Most of the humor seems to be derived from painful puns based off of place names in Paris, and the story itself just drags. Adding insult to injury is the fact that when this story was converted for e-readers, no effort was made to link up each individual paragraph, which means you have to click-click-click-click to jump back and forth, made worse that the story had you jumping from paragraph 9 to say paragraph 80 then to 50 than back to 9. A more engrossing story could have made it tolerable, but as it was, I literally couldn’t be bothered to finish reading it.

There were another eleven short stories in this collection, ranging from genuinely being worth a read (“Charlie Rabbit”) to the down-right squicky (“Lightening Bringer” where in the antagonist used his powers over lightening to somehow coerce women into having sex with them before killing them, and ending with the protagonist being told he isn’t the other guy “because you always gave me a choice”) to mostly forgettable. I’ve heard it said that short-story writing is a whole different beast from novel writing and quite frankly, you can tell here. Nix is at his best when he has time to breathe and develop his world and these stories don’t have that – the stories are about half as long as the ones from say Rogues – and you can tell. They’re not bad they’re just not that great either.

Finally, the last chunk of book are the collection of introductions. Each story gets one, and quite frankly, these feel self-indulgent. Context and publishing history is good, but you only need 1-2 paragraphs to do that. He spends 1-2 pages per story to do this. There’s no real insight here and instead it comes off as the sound of an author who likes his own voice.

So yeah. In case it isn’t obvious, I’m not a fan of this collection. The short stories aren’t worth the read, and the novella is only so-so. If you really want to read it, just wait. I’m willing to bet money that at some point the novella will be released as a stand-alone download for e-readers, likely after the announcement of the title and release date of book #5. For $0.99 it’s worth a pick up. For the $7 it costs to download this collection, or buy an imported copy of the stand-alone, not so much.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now

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