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Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories
Garth Nix
HarperCollins Eos, 320 pages

Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories
Garth Nix
Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia. He left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin. He returned to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After graduating in 1986, he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher's sales representative, and editor. He left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, until he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002, Garth went back to dedicated writer again. Garth currently lives in a beach suburb of Sydney, with his wife Anna, a publisher, and new born baby Thomas Henry.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Abhorsen Trilogy
SF Site Review: The Ragwitch
Garth Nix at HarperCollins

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Adam Volk

The genre of young adult fantasy literature seems alive and well these days, thanks in part to everyone's favorite pre-pubescent boy wizard. Indeed, the adventures of Harry Potter have not only drawn in millions of readers of all ages, but has created legions of fantasy junkies now looking for a fix to tide them over until J.K. Rowling's next volume hits the shelves. And yet, what is perhaps most surprising is the number of adult readers who are also now wandering the young adult book section of their local bookstores. Indeed, YA fantasy literature has become something of an anomaly these days, with authors such as Philip Pullman, Nancy Farmer and Jonathan Stroud creating works that have a widespread appeal among both children and adult readers.

Australian author Garth Nix, is one such writer who seems capable of penning fantasy literature with a massive demographic appeal. Indeed, Nix, like his many contemporaries working within the YA genre, produces works that are intricately layered, well-plotted and in many ways, far superior to J.K. Rowling. The proof is perhaps in Nix's well known Abhorsen Trilogy (comprised respectively of Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen) an epic fantasy series that was so well-received that marketing-savvy publisher, Eos, released two editions: one in the traditional Young Adult format, and the other in a trade sized and unabridged adult version. Nix however, has also managed to cement a well-deserved reputation with a variety of other Young Adult titles, including the more recent Keys to the Kingdom series, The Ragwitch, Shade's Children, and the much underrated Seventh Tower series.

Now, Nix is back with his latest work, Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories. The title however may be slightly misleading in that the book is in fact a collection of Nix's short stories only one of which takes place in the titular Abhorsen Trilogy setting of the "Old Kingdom". That being said, as a collection, the book remains an entertaining and satisfying read. Like any single-author anthology there are hits and misses, but throughout the volume, Nix's flair for characterization and elegant prose are likely to keep both children and adults up well past their bedtime.

The strongest work in the collection however, is undoubtedly: "Nicolas Sayre and the Creature in the Case", a sizable novella set in the Old Kingdom of the Abhorsen Trilogy. The story itself concerns the continued adventures of Nicholas Sayre, the reluctant protagonist who first appeared in Lirael. This time however, Nix offers a fascinating glimpse of the land of Ancelestiere, a country that bears a striking resemblance, both technologically and socially, to early 20th century Britain. Ancelestiere however, is also a land of reason and science, separated from the magic of the Old Kingdom by the ancient and mysterious Wall.

As a pampered Ancelestiere aristocrat, Nicholas is overcome by strange feelings of longing, and dreams of returning to the Old Kingdom where his friend, the Crown Prince Sameth, currently resides. His plans however, are put on hold when he is invited by his politician uncle to join the secretive Department 13, an enigmatic organization dedicated to collecting and researching magical artifacts from the Old Kingdom. Their prized item is a bizarre and hideous creature constructed out of the unstable elements of Free Magic and imprisoned within an ancient glass case.

Before Nicholas can properly investigate however, he finds himself an unwilling sacrifice to the strange creature with his lifeblood bringing the monstrosity to life and allowing it to escape. With his fellow countrymen unfamiliar with the workings of magic, it is up to Nicholas to save the day, and what follows is a rousing adventure, with Nicholas pursuing the creature across Ancelestiere, culminating in a harrowing showdown at the edge of the Wall and the return of one of Nix's more beloved characters.

The novella itself is perhaps not as strong as Nix's previous tales of the Old Kingdom, however for fans eager to return to the world of the Abhorsen Trilogy, it is a satisfying read none the less. The work also holds up well for readers with no prior knowledge of Nix's unique fantasy world.

There is however no shortage of traditional fantasy elements in the remainder of the collection. Indeed, Nix has taken one of the most well-worn fantasy tales, and crafted not one, but two tales directly related to Arthurian legend.

The first, entitled: "Under the Lake," is an innovative portrayal of the oft-used figure of the Lady of the Lake. Nix version of this mythical being however, is a far cry from the traditional Arthurian legend. Rather Nix's Lady of the Lake is a monstrous and ancient creature imprisoned in a watery tomb, and who is drawn into events against her will. In the often redundant and recycled tales of Arthurian legend, Nix is able to breathe new life into the character, and in a short time crafts a character that is both remarkably evil and utterly sympathetic at the same time.

His second Arthurian inspired tale "Heart's Desire" again takes a well-known bit of the legend and presents it in a new light. This time Nix examines the story of Merlin and his lover/apprentice Nimue. In this case, Nix examines the seeming paradox of their relationship (namely if Merlin knows the future, why allow himself be betrayed by Nimue). Nix's solution to this lesser known bit of Arthurian lore is both incredibly innovative and entertaining and his prose is magnificent in capturing the beauty and magic of the old legend.

Arthurian legends aside however, there is also no shortage of Nix's mastery over the strangely fantastical as well. Such is the case in "From the Lighthouse" a quasi-fantasy story about a strange tropical island surrounded by ice. The story concerns an ignorant and greedy foreigner who believes he has purchased the idyllic island and follows one clever woman in the peaceful utopian society who fights back. The story is utterly strange and engaging, and a perfect allegorical representation concerning the evils of colonialism.

Similarly, Nix offers up a strange slice of magic in "Hope Chest," the most bizarre and darkly moving of the anthologies stories. The tale blends the traditional motif of the American Western with magic, and is set in a strange alternate version of the United States in 1922, with a Hitler-like leader ruling the nation through magic and intimidation. The story itself follows a young girl who is abandoned as a baby at a train station along with a mysterious chest, and how her destiny is interlinked with that of the tyrannical leader. The story brings to mind shades of Stephen King's Gunslinger, combined with Nix's own bizarre, violent, and magnificently written narrative.

Nix's work however is not easy to pin down to one specific style or genre. Indeed "Lightning Bringer" is almost a tale of contemporary horror, in addition to being the most adult-themed of the anthology. The story itself concerns a teenaged boy who uncovers strange electrical powers, and a deadly and mysterious biker who has the power to destroy all that he holds dear.

The contemporary style is also evident in several works which are devoid of even traces of the fantastical. The first, "Charlie Rabbit" is a war story, set in the modern world and follows two young boys trapped in a cellar during a bombing raid. The story is incredibly powerful and moving, and should be required reading in elementary school classrooms as an ideal way to educate children on the futility of war.

Similarly, "The Hill" is another contemporary work with no discernible elements of the fantastic. This time the story is set in Nix's homeland of Australia and follows a young boy and his grandfather, struggling to hold on to their land. Again, the story works beautifully in its simplicity and demonstrates Nix's mastery over characterization and his subtle understanding of human emotions.

Perhaps the weakest in the anthology however, are "Down to the Scum Quarter" -- an old fashioned choose your own adventure style tale, with a dash of the Three Musketeers thrown in for good measure -- and "My New Really Epic Fantasy Series" which is based on Nix's Worldcon lecture, and is a tongue in cheek jab at the multi-volume fantasy epics by authors such as Robert Jordan and David Eddings. Both works are humorous, but not particularly enlightening or entertaining.

Fortunately, Nix rounds out the collection delving into another well-known fantasy genre, this time focusing on fairy tales. The first "Hansel's Eyes" is a contemporary retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story. It is also perhaps one of the weakest works in the anthology, lacking Nix's usual dramatic flare, but Nix's further explorations of traditional fairy-tale elements are positively inspired in "Three Roses" a traditional fairy-tale parable about a grieving widower and a greedy king. Similarly, in "Endings" Nix offers up an almost poetic and extremely short fairy-tale themed narrative, where reader's imagination fills in the gaps left in this surprisingly short three page narrative. It is a credit to Nix's ability as a story teller that in a mere three pages he can create more magic and beauty than some fantasy authors can express in a hundred pages.

In the end, Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories is a classic example of the potential of Young Adult fantasy literature, a feat made all the more impressive in that almost all the stories will appeal equally to both teens and adults. While not every tale in the collection is a gem, even the weakest retains Nix's strong prose and innovative storytelling. Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories is likely to delight teen readers looking to fill the gap of Harry Potter, and is an equally satisfying guilty pleasure for adults.

Copyright © 2005 Adam Volk

Adam Volk may or may not be a zombie cyborg. He is also an editor with EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (, a freelance writer, a comic book creator and a regular reviewer for the Silver Bullet Comic Books website (

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