Lady Friday (The Keys to the Kingdom) by Garth Nix

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Lady Friday (The Keys to the Kingdom) by Garth Nix

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: The Keys To The Kingdom series goes from strength to strength in a wonderfully tense book. Great world-building that doesn't get in the way of pace and tension. Recommended for all young fans of fantasy.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0007175093

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This Bookbag reviewer is a little late in getting to grips with Garth Nix's wonderful Keys To The Kingdom series. Mea maxima culpa, because these books are big - and by big I mean big - in the playground. Everybody knows them. My older son is on to teen and adult stuff these days, but he still finds time for the Keys To The Kingdom. My younger son hates reading fiction - what's wrong with facts? - but he's read Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday more than once. Even my five-year-old nephew, who can't read yet, can tell you that Arthur Penhaligon is the Heir to the Architect's Will.

The basic premise is that the Will of the Architect, the creator of the universe, has not been properly looked after by its trustees, the Morrow Days. The Morrow Days have broken it into seven pieces or keys and all have been afflicted by one of the seven deadly sins. Arthur Penhaligon, who should have died of an asthma attack, is chosen by the Will as its heir. Arthur is thus tasked with taking on each of the Morrow Days in turn and winning back the key from each. The action, obviously, all takes place in another dimension, the House, which is the epicentre of the universe. Our world is one of the many secondary realms belonging to the House and the House itself is divided into seven areas, each governed by one of the Morrow Days.

With the aid of Dame Primus - the Will's personification - Arthur has succeeded in defeating Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday and Sir Thursday. His battles are becoming ever more dangerous, for the more Arthur uses spells and sorcery in his dealings with the Morrow Days, the closer he gets to becoming an immortal Denizen. If that happens, he'll never be able to go home to his adopted family in our dimension. Lady Friday is a nasty, nasty Morrow Day. She is obsessed with feeding on the dreams and experiences of mortals from our world, and is hypnotising them and abducting them in their thousands. Leaf, Arthur's friend, has found herself among the abductees. Arthur himself has been tricked into being transported to the Middle House, Lady Friday's sphere of jurisdiction, and he must fight his way to the Scriptorium to regain the key before Superior Saturday or the Piper beat him to it.

So far, so fantasy epic good.

All fans of the series will be glad to learn that it simply goes from strength to strength. The world-building is as wonderful as ever and the two-stranded story with one part involving Arthur's struggle to find the fifth key and Leaf's adventures in Lady Friday's gruesome world of soul-stealing gives double value. Arthur's growing fear that he will become too suffused with sorcery to ever make it back home is an underlying source of conflict which creates a really strong tension, carrying the reader over to the next book.

There are so many good things about this series it's difficult to pin down exactly what has made it so popular. I, personally, am not a huge fan of these huge worldscapes created by fantasy writers. I've never been keen on Terry Pratchett's Discworld - or even, dare I say it, The Lord of the Rings for that matter. It's all so geeky. Undeniably though, this kind of thing is incredibly popular with adults and children, with their magpie minds, love it too. But even I like Arthur Penhaligon and The House. I think perhaps this is because although the books are clearly intended for younger children at perhaps upper primary or lower secondary level, Nix doesn't worry about over-complicating things. He doesn't worry about sticking to a safe vocabulary. He doesn't patronise at all, but simply trusts that the power of his story will carry his young readers along. And it does. I heartily approve of this.

There are also echoes of some of the best aspects of other fantasy writers - like Pratchett's characters, Nix's creations are often eccentric but they are given amusing and mundane obsessions that tie them to people one can recognise from everyday life. They worry about things we worry about. They have the same petty jealousies. The Keys to the Kingdom series uses a lot of Christian symbology - the seven virtues, the seven sins, creation departing from God's will and needing a saviour. This is all very Narnian. But perhaps what really hooks Nix's readers is the mix of the quotidian and the fantastical. Everyday objects find their way all over The House, but they all act in slightly different ways - it's recognisable but surreal, a little bit like Alice in Wonderland.

But whatever it is, it doesn't really matter. I'm just an adult, wittering on. They all love these books. And Lady Friday won't disappoint.

My thanks to Harper Collins for sending the book. We also have a review of Superior Saturday (The Keys to the Kingdom) by Garth Nix.

Junior fantasy fans should begin with Mister Monday. Darren Shan's Demonata series is more gory and less fantastical but will appeal to readers of a similar age, while Terry Pratchett's The Carpet People makes similarly wry use of the mundane.

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Magda said:

I am NOT, this is an official undertaking here, I am not reading this aloud. EVER.