To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

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To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Z J Cookson
Reviewed by Z J Cookson
Summary: A must-read short story collection for fans of Garth Nix but those new to his writing might be better starting with one of his novels.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: June 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1471404481

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A collection of 21 short stories loosely divided into six different categories, To Hold the Bridge will probably divide opinion amongst readers. It’s undoubtedly a must-read book for fans of Garth Nix and these fans will, I suspect, quibble with my four star rating and challenge me to add another star. Those new to Garth’s writing might, in turn, think I’ve been over-generous given the mixed nature of the stories in the book.

Garth’s traditional fantasy stories are most often thought to be aimed at Confident Readers although his hugely successful Old Kingdom books (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and more recently Clariel) are often categorised for, and widely read by, teens. The stories in To Hold the Bridge are definitely more suited to this older audience. Indeed, parents of younger readers need to be warned that there is some strong (and I mean strong) language hidden within the book’s 497 pages.

The lead short story, a rarely seen Old Kingdom novella, is by far the best in the book and immediately drew me in. It’s now many years since I’ve followed the adventures of characters within the Old Kingdom, but I was quickly reminded why I loved the original stories. Garth quickly sets up the world using easy and accessible language to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. To this he adds believable characters with whom we immediately sympathise – in this case poor young Morghan – and then drops them into a situation of conflict. Given his erratic schooling, will Morghan be allowed to join the Bridge Company? Will he be able to survive the tough training? Will his knowledge of Charter magic be strong enough when the dead arrive to attempt to take the Bridge? It’s little wonder I couldn’t put this book down as I read the first 63 pages.

My response to the other stories in the collection was more mixed. I found myself loving some of them, intrigued by the magical setting and desperate to know the fate of the main character. Vampire Weather, for example, had me hooked as I learnt about a world where Amos needs a necklace of crosses and clothing lined with silver just to collect the post.

Other stories, such as Peace in our time, failed to spark my interest. These stories often had the characteristic magical story premise that I’ve come to associate with Garth’s writing: for example, a land where clockwork enhancement of humans is the norm. However, these stories lacked his usually engaging characters and I found I simply didn’t care enough about them to want to read on.

Overall, the mixed nature of the stories makes To Hold the Bridge a difficult book to rate. If you’re a fan of Garth’s writing I’d definitely recommend you obtain a copy. It’s worth the cover price for the Old Kingdom novella alone. Indeed, I enjoyed the first story so much that I’ve dusted off my decade old copies of the original Old Kingdom books and added them to the pile of books I intend to re-read.

However, if you’re new to Garth’s writing, you might be better starting with one of his novels. Try the Old Kingdom Series, starting with his book Sabriel.

Fans might also enjoy his other short story collection Across the Wall