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Keys to the Kingdom series: an unofficial review

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  • Keys to the Kingdom series: an unofficial review

    Widgets Magazine
    The Keys to the Kingdom Series
    (Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday, and Lord Sunday)
    by Garth Nix

    On the first day, there was mystery.
    On the second day, there was darkness.
    On the third day, there were pirates.
    On the fourth day, there was war.
    On the fifth day, there was fear.
    On the sixth day, there was sorcery.
    On the seventh day, there was a choice

    What They Say:
    Originally posted by Amazon.com
    Mister Monday

    Arthur Penhaligon's life is saved by a key shaped like the minute hand of a clock. A stranger named Mister Monday, his avenging messengers with blood-stained wings, and an army of dog-faced Fetchers will stop at nothing to get the key back

    Grim Tuesday

    Arthur doesn't think he will ever have to return to the strange house that nearly killed him on Monday -- the house that contains an entire world. But Tuesday brings new challenges -- in the form of an enemy named Grim Tuesday, who threatens the well-being of both Arthur's family and his world. Arthur must retrieve the Second Key from Grim Tuesday in order to save everything -- an adventure that will include stealing a Sunship, surviving a very weird work camp, befriending a bearlike spirit, fighting the voidlike Nithlings, and traveling to the scary Far Reaches for the ultimate showdown.

    Drowned Wednesday
    Everyone is after Arthur Penhaligon. Strange pirates. Shadowy creatures. And Drowned Wednesday, whose gluttony threatens both her world and Arthur's.

    Sir Thursday
    Following their adventures in the Border Sea, Arthur and Leaf head for home. But only Leaf gets through the Front Door. Arthur is blocked because someone . . . or something . . . has assumed his identity and is taking over his life.

    Before Arthur can take action, he is drafted by Sir Thursday and forced to join the Glorious Army of the Architect. While Leaf tries to banish Arthur's doppleganger on earth, Arthur must survive his basic training, avoid getting posted to the Front and work out how he can free Part Four of the Will....

    Lady Friday

    Four of the seven Trustees have been defeated and their Keys taken, but for Arthur, the week is still getting worse. Suzy Blue and Fred Initial Numbers Gold have been captured by the Piper, and his New Nithling army still controls most of the Great Maze. Superior Saturday is causing trouble wherever she can, including turning off all the elevators in the House and blocking the Front Door. Arthur can't even find out what is happening back home. All he knows is that Leaf isn't on earth any more. She's missing and so are hundreds of other people who were transferred from regular hospitals to a private institution run by a 'Doctor Friday'. From there they have been taken somewhere else in the Secondary Realms, for Lady Friday's own horrible purposes. Amid all this trouble, Arthur's mother is also missing, and he must weigh up an offer from Lady Friday that is either a cunning trap for the Rightful Heir or a golden opportunity he must seize -- before Superior Saturday or the Piper beats him to it.

    Superior Saturday
    The secret of his own identity.
    The identity of The Architect.
    The complete Will of the House.
    The fulfillment of his fate.

    Arthur Penhaligon is getting closer and closer to these things... but not without risks, conflict, and adventure

    Lord Sunday

    Seven days. Seven keys. Seven virtues. Seven sins.

    In this thrilling conclusion to Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series, Arthur Penhaligon must complete his quest to save the Kingdom he is heir to...and Arthur's world
    The Premise:
    In the beginning, there was Nothing.

    Then, there was the Architect.

    And from Nothing, She called forth Her kingdom. For seven days, wonder after wonder came forth for Her delight. And She ruled over all, from the House.

    But all things must pass. And in time, She went away. But before She left, She entrusted seven wondrous objects to seven loyal servants, and dictated a Will they were to follow. Rules to govern over all Creation. Rules to find Her heir.

    Seven Trustees who soon broke faith, and sought to keep the power for themselves. Each to rule a day, and pretend to Her glory. . .

    But the Will of the Architect is not so easily thwarted.


    On Monday, Arthur Penhaligon was supposed to die. Forced to run a cross country track by an uncaring gym teacher, and far from his emergency oxygen, the asthma attack was supposed to kill the ill twelve year old.

    He lay on the ground, desperate for air, unable to call for help . . . Until they showed up. Two strange men who just appeared out of thin air.

    At the prompting of his butler, an elegant gentleman in Victorian garb pressed a sword into Arthur's hand. The self-proclaimed "Mister Monday" declares himself a loyal servant to the Will, and that he relinquishes control of the "Minute Hand" to this boy, a "Rightful Heir" to the Architect. . .

    . . . And without missing a beat, this Mister Monday then openly starts wondering how quickly Arthur will die, allowing him to retake his Key. After all, how can the Architect blame him, if the Rightful Heir dies of natural causes?

    But even as the paramedics load him into the ambulance, Arthur doesn't feel like he's dying . . . in fact, this is the best he's ever felt. With his fingers wrapped around the First Key, he feels like he could run a marathon.

    However, its just a temporary fix - his death is only postponed. Mister Monday wants his Key back. And only all seven Keys acting in unison can truly make him whole again.

    Assuming he can get them, of course. After all, the other six Trustees have no intention of just handing their Keys over. . .

    Seven fantastic realms, each governed by one of the treacherous Trustees, stand between Arthur and home. Seven sinister plans in motion. And seven Keys, which promise ultimate power . . . for a price.

    But most dangerous of all? The Architect kept many secrets . . . and her Will is in motion.


    The Review: Years ago, I ran across the first book in the series (Mister Monday), and liked it enough to keep my eyes open for the rest. A fantasy series that mixes elements of Judeo-Christian beliefs, Alice in Wonderland, and Arthurian mythology, it was a wonderful witch's brew of ideas. And who doesn't like the idea of (literally) getting to play god?

    The protagonist, Arthur Penhaligon, is fairly typical fare for a kid's fantasy series. Bright, not particularly athletic . . . but a dreamer willing to fight for his friends. If he is somewhat stock, though, he's still very much someone that kids (of all ages) can identify with.

    And the magic system is interesting. Inside the House, the seven-layered realm built by the Architect between universes, the written word literally is magic. Address a letter to someone, and it'll turn into a bird and fly off to deliver itself. Or if you're cold, just write, "this is a warm coat" on a sheet of paper. Presto! The paper will wrap itself around you, and turn into a coat (style depending on which layer you're in).

    The House itself is a nice setting, too. Loosely held together by a seaside mansion theme, each (world-sized) layer takes inspiration from a different bit of the Victorian era. Three layers form the mansion proper, the Far Reaches are a period mining camp, and the other three form the grounds (hedge maze, ocean, and gardens). The era can be changed as easily as the wallpaper on a computer, but its "authentic" for the residents, who adapt accordingly. So its sort of like the House is populated with hardcore reenactors.

    All of which gives each book a very distinctive setting: the servant quarters of the Lower House to the hellish mines of the Far Reaches . . . The Border Sea feels like Gilbert & Sullivan meet Moby Dick, which stands in sharp contrast to the Napoleonic War/chess-vibe of the Great Maze. There's never any question about where a scene is set. And the cast works perfectly for each layer, too - which makes sense, since the Architect could just make the right personnel to staff it

    Speaking of the cast, the female characters really shine. As befits a creator-god(dess), many of the dominant personalities in the House are female, including half of the Trustees. And on Arthur's side, the two key characters are Dame Primus (his chain smoking mentor), and the ageless street kid Suzy Turquoise Blue. One manipulative and the other half-mad, they're often at loggerheads, and drive much of the action while Arthur's away questing for the latest Key.

    Unfortunately, the premise of the series does become a bit of a straitjacket, and the author has to fight to avoid becoming formulaic. A Trustee moves against Arthur or his family, and he has to go back to the House to free another piece of the Will, and claim another Key. The Trustee has overwhelming advantages, but is hamstrung by a serious character flaw (often based on one of the seven deadly sins) . . .

    Mister Monday and Grim Tuesday do a great job introducing the cast and the premise. And Drowned Wednesday is fine, taking the formula in an interesting direction (avast, me hearties!) But at that point, he's got three of the Keys, a ton of followers, and controls almost half of the House. All of which forces the author to start using gimmicks, to keep Arthur from just overwhelming the next pesky Trustee with brute force. To some extent, that's appropriate, because the remaining Trustees are having to improvise, too . . .

    However, this also about the time that issues begin to crop up with the mundane half of the setting. Initially, it looked like the author wanted to do a lot with Arthur's siblings, and several Trustee plans have an Earthly component. One tries to bankrupt Arthur's forces (causing a global recession on Earth), another involves an evil twin . . .

    Unfortunately, a minor subplot first introduced in Mister Monday starts to rage out of control, devouring more and more page count in each book. One that severely limits what he can do on the mundane side of things. So the author never gets a chance to develop the siblings beyond broad sketches ("brave soldier", "bohemian musician", . . .), or do much with the other Earthly characters. Ultimately, it takes extreme measures to get this subplot back under control.

    This doesn't mean the second half of the series is bad, and the author shakes things up in some interesting ways: a civil war among the Trustees over the remaining Keys, a full-fledged invasion of the House by an unsuspected third faction . . . But it does raise the question of what the author could pull off with a do-over.

    There's not really a lot of adult content. You could see the outlines of a potential love triangle between Arthur, Leaf (an Earth girl), and Suzy . . . but they're a bit young to act on that possibility (there's not even any kissing). If they were a couple years older . . . but no, they're still just "good friends".

    One of the Trustees is using her Key to get high, though. And while most of the violence is classic fantasy violence, by/against supernatural creatures that can easily heal the damage, the situation with the Old One (think "Prometheus and the vultures") might be a bit much for little kids. Overall, I'd probably rate the series a PG, PG-13.

    Recommended for: Fantasy fans, particularly those who don't want a lot of romance or sexual tension along the way. In particular, if you used to like the old Ruth Chew books, the Keys to the Kingdom have a very similar vibe (but written for a much older audience). There are also some elements that should appeal to fans of god-games, like SimCity or Civilization.

    My Final Thoughts: I really liked Mister Monday. It reminded me strongly of books that I used to love when I was a kid, but that haven't held up well (at least for me). Watching Arthur climb the Improbable Stair, or cope with the odd denizens of the House, brought back fond memories of kids playing with magic buttons, or flying all night on a giant mushroom.

    However, while I still enjoyed the later books, certain plot points and the raw might of the Keys began to overshadow my favorite elements. Still, the books held up well (even to adult scrutiny), and it was nice to revisit a style of fantasy that often doesn't turn up in more "adult" fantasy novels.
    "The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man."

    -William Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"
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