Goldenhand: Old Kingdom, Book 5

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Goldenhand: Old Kingdom, Book 5 Book Poster Image
Exciting entry in magic series brings back fave characters.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers can compare Garth Nix's magical world of the Charter vs. Free Magic with other fantasy worlds where magic is used for good or evil. They can also look at how Nix sets the gateway to the afterlife compared with other interpretations of purgatory from Dante and Greek myth and beyond.

Positive Messages

Nix's strong female characters always exhibit bravery and commitment to country, family, and the fight against evil.

Positive Role Models & Representations

For those who remember Lirael from Book 2 of the series, she was very shy and didn't trust in her own strength. As she's thrust into the role of Abhorsen-in-Waiting, she finds her voice and bravery and begins to express herself. Ferin, by contrast, has always been strong and brave. It's her openness to a vastly different culture and magical world that's surprising.

Violence

Magical creatures and grotesque dead creatures attack in tense chase scenes and battle scenes. The living fight back with arrows and swords. Some of the good side die from falling off cliffs, drowning in a tidal wave, and getting hit with arrows. A foot is amputated after an arrow goes through it, and a man almost dies of loss of blood. Two women, called Abhorsens, travel into death as part of their dangerous job managing the dead with constant doubt about whether they will be able to get back to the living world again. Among the bad element, a throat is slit, minds are controlled and compelled to fight, a magical creature is shot through the eyes with arrows, and a man is pinned by swords to his throat and then killed. There's talk of how each tribe in the north offers a teen girl to a greater dead creature; if the dead creature doesn't select that teen as a host body, she is sacrificed.

Sex

Kissing in many scenes with a few mentions of desires to have sex and mentions of a garden where an all-female group of Seers called the Clayr meet with men to consummate relationships.

Language

"Damn" repeated a few times in the same stressful scene.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine with dinner where it seems everyone partakes; Lirael is almost 20. Several glasses of wine served at a meeting. A man packs a tobacco pipe.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Garth Nix's Goldenhand is the fifth novel in the Old Kingdom series that includes the Abhorsen Trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) and the prequel Clariel. It's helpful to read at least the Abhorsen Trilogy, as well as a story called "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case" from the collection Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories. Without that background readers won't understand who the major characters are (save one) and what's happening in this magical world where people called Abhorsens use Charter Magic to fight evil Free Magic. Abhorsens -- two strong female characters here -- wield bells that help them walk in death and return to the living, but there's always a danger that they won't come back. In this sequel, magical creatures and grotesque dead creatures attack in tense chase scenes and battle scenes. The living fight back with arrows and swords. Some of the good side die from falling off cliffs, drowning in a tidal wave, and getting hit with arrows. A foot is amputated after an arrow goes through it, and a man almost dies of loss of blood. Other mature content includes a bit of wine drinking and kissing with talk of the desire for sex.

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What's the story?

In GOLDENHAND, with Sabriel and King Touchstone on vacation, Lirael, the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, is in charge of any Free Magic emergency. After years of peace, her job is expected to be quiet, and Lirael's niece threatens to fill her social calendar at the castle. So Lirael is almost relieved when a real emergency arises, across the Wall where magical creatures aren't supposed to exist. She finds her old friend Nick there next to a powerful Free Magic creature, both unconscious. After binding the creature, she attempts to take Nick across the Wall for treatment, and a strange thing happens: Charter symbols infused in the Wall flow into him. Could he be channeling too much magic after he was saved from death the summer before? Lirael decides to take him to the Clayr, women Seers and scholars who live in a glacier, to find out more. Also on her way to the Clayr and to Lirael with a message of great importance is a girl from a far-off tribe named Ferin. Her journey is a dangerous one, as she's pursued the whole way by necromancers and shamans that raise Free Magic and dead creatures against her. Can she make it to the glacier without destroying whole towns on the way and deliver her message before it's too late? The survival of the Old Kingdom depends on it.

Is it any good?

Any fan of the magical Old Kingdom series will be excited that their favorite characters are back -- Lirael and her new golden hand especially -- and in an exciting story to boot. After the prequel, Clariel, was slow to ramp up, readers may expect the same here, but Goldenhand motors along right away. Chapters go back and forth between the rescue of Nick by Lirael (and the satisfying start of a romantic subplot) and the fevered pursuit of a tough new character named Ferin. She proves relentless as shaman-controlled Free Magic creatures and necromancer-raised gore crows and dead hands creep closer in every chapter.

Strong female characters rule in the whole series, and each one is very different, from the formerly shy and sensitive Lirael to the frank and fierce Ferin. And the story is well balanced among their heroic character arcs, the exploration of the mystery of Old Kingdom magic, and the intense action of chases and battles. Here's hoping more trips to the Old Kingdom are in store for readers.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the magical world in Goldenhand. How does it compare with other authors' visions of magic?

  • Each book in this series features a powerful female character -- or in this case, two. What do they have in common that makes them resilient? How is Lirael's strength different from Ferin's?

  • Will you read more stories from the Old Kingdom? What about the fantasy storytelling, do you think, makes the series so popular?

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