I cleverly smashed the screen on my phone last week, which you’d think would have given me more time to read, or even to catch up on blog comments, but… nope!
As befits a short story collection, this had ups and downs. The opening story, ‘To Hold The Bridge’, was set in the world of the Abhorsen books and was a brilliant look at a world we’re familiar with, but from a completely different perspective than usual. I’d read a full book about Morghan, if Nix cared to write one. I’d also love a full book based on ‘A Handful of Ashes’, a complex story about a college for witches. A low point for me was the sci-fi section, which had an overly long John Carter of Mars companion story, and was a bit more steampunk overall than I like my sci-fi to be. I also struggled with some of the more adult short stories, not because they were bad, but because it was too much of a jump for me to go from ‘To Hold The Bridge’ to a story where people are swearing. I have nothing against swearing in books, but here it felt out of place. Something else that surprised me were the stories involving characters created by other writers – there’s the aforementioned John Carter of Mars story, but there’s also a (sort of) Sherlock Holmes one, and a Hellboy one. To balance that, there are stories based on Nix’s own other works – the aforementioned Abhorsen story, as well as a Shade’s Children one, and one set in the A Confusion of Princes universe. So, some good stories, some not so good, but definitely worth picking up.
It’s hard to know what to say about this book. It’s gorgeous. Wonderfully, beautifully, gorgeous. Through a series of diary entries, letters and photographs, we follow Colonel Allen Forrester’s journey through an Alaska unexplored by white Westerners. We also follow his wife, Sophie, left behind in Vancouver. Interspersed with this is the modern day communication between Colonel Forrester’s great-nephew and a museum curator. This book questions what it takes to belong to a place, it looks at ideas of identity, and it is suffused with love. Alaska, as it so often is in literature, is a character rather than a backdrop. It is mysterious, challenging and awe-inspiringly beautiful. Colonel Forrester is upright, determined and open to the strangeness he encounters. Sophie is bold and inspiring, uncertain, but unafraid to forge her own path. The love between the two of them colours the whole book, and manages to avoid even a hint of the saccharine. The modern story takes in so much, in a relatively small amount of text – what does it mean to be a native Alaskan?, when are you too old to follow your dreams?, and how much information is too much information to share with a relative stranger when you’re gay? There are so many massive ideas contained in this book, and they are all explored with a lightness that takes real skill.