Keys to the Kingdom is Garth Nix's latest series. Three titles are available so far: Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, and the recently published Drowned Wednesday.
The plot: It's complicated. Arthur Penhaligon is not your typical hero. He's just started a new school, and he's trying to convince the teacher that he has bad asthma, but the teacher wants none of it and his busy family was so busy that no one sent in a note excusing him from phys ed. So Arthur starts running... and soon collapses. He's saved by a mysterious stranger who hands him strange key. The key is magical and saves Arthur's life; but there are people who want that key back. And they are willing to destroy Arthur's world to get it back.
Somehow, by accident of almost dying at the right (or wrong?) spot, Arthur has become a chosen one: Rightful Heir to the House. Arthur finds a way into the house; and now the story becomes even more surreal, as Arthur meets the Denizens, the Piper's Children, and Mister Monday's attendants: Dawn, Noon and Dusk.
Arthur quickly learns that there are seven keys. The one he has belongs to Mister Monday. Mister Monday is one of the trustees of "the Will"; and Arthur finds himself in a struggle against the evil trustees who have failed to follow "the Will."
The good: Nix has created a complex world that is bizarre, strange, familiar, exciting, dangerous, and consistent. I have no idea if Nix is a "plotter" or "plunger" when it comes to writing, but I'll say this: the world of the House, the Far Reaches, the Border Seas is Real. There may be contradictions; but there are no inconsistencies. At no point do you feel, "OK, now you're just making stuff up" or even worse, "Hey, that's not what you said about the Fetchers in Book One." Nix makes you believe that the world of Keys to the Kingdom does exist, because how else could it be so full? Also good are the many literary and religious references.
Arthur is a refreshingly human hero; by book three, he is not only bothered by asthma but he's also managed to break his leg and has to hobble his way through an adventure involving pirates, rats, and a giant whale. And while his being made the Rightful Heir seems oddly random, he's named Arthur. And he's an orphan. So methinks there may be more to Arthur's background than we've been told.
So far, the books are unique. Yes, each is named for a day of the week -- there are seven keys, seven parts of the Will -- and this could easily invite a formulaic approach. Instead, each book offers up surprises and twists and turns.
Future books: Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday and Lord Sunday.
Fantasy and horror fans will enjoy this one. The only bad thing is the wait for the future books.
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