The Keys to the Kingdom #6: Superior Saturday

Apologies for the lack of posts! I have been completely swamped with moving. However, now that I can read on the subway (as opposed to the bus, which gives me a stomachache), I should be able to get a lot more Active Voicery done. Here’s hoping!

Superior Saturday By Garth Nix [LibraryThingAmazon]

In the beginning, the Architect made the House, the epicenter of the universe, and she made the Secondary Realms, in which to play out her great experiment: life. Then she went away, leaving the House in the hands of seven Trustees. But the Trustees were untrustworthy, corrupted by the power they held, and the House fell into disrepair.

Now 12-year-old Arthur Penhaligon has been chosen by the Architect’s Will as the Rightful Heir. One by one he must face the Trustees, take their Keys, and restore the House to rights. But all he really wants to do is go home.

In Superior Saturday, Arthur, having defeated the first five Trustees, takes on the one who has been working insidiously against him from the start. Disguised as a Piper’s child, faithful companion Suzy Turquoise Blue by his side, he must infiltrate Saturday’s realm – which is entirely populated by sorcerers – free her section of the Will, and take her Key. Meanwhile, his forces are waging war on the Piper’s army, Saturday is waging war on Sunday, the lower sections of the House are crumbling into Nothing, and Arthur is becoming less and less human.

I reread the first five books in the series in order to refresh my memory for Superior Saturday, which may not have been the best idea, because Lady Friday, which was kind of slow and uneventful, has totally blended in my mind with Superior Saturday, which was also kind of slow and uneventful. So consider this more of a series review, with a focus on the latest book.

And, well, slow and uneventful later installments aside, I love this series. I cannot get enough of the world-building – the House and its seven realms, the Denizens who populate it, the secrets of its creation. I particularly enjoyed the chaotic townlike Lower House of Mister Monday, and the incompetent sailors and Raised Rats who traverse the Border Sea of Drowned Wednesday. Nix has also pulled on ideas from mythology and folklore very effectively – the Pied Piper, who has always kind of creeped me out, is used to chilling effect in this series, and the way he blends Satan and Prometheus into the single Miltonian figure of the Old One is inspired. It’s one of those series where I would be happy to read about nothing in particular, as long as I could be immersed in that series’ world.

Arthur himself works well, too. He’s an Everykid, which we’ve seen on this blog before, but one who manages to have a distinct and likeable personality, somewhat reminiscent of Gregor from the Underland Chronicles. He has no interest in power or adventure, and only agrees to take on Mister Monday initially because he wants to find a cure for the magical plague that’s afflicting his town. When he acts badly out of anger or pettiness, he stops and considers that his parents wouldn’t approve of such behavior. (Incidentally, I also really like his non-traditional family: his genius medical scientist mother, his retired rock star stay-at-home dad, and the jumbled collection of kids they have from various marriages and rock star indiscretions. Arthur himself is adopted.) Arthur is not exceptional; he’s a decent, ordinary boy whose trustworthy, compassionate nature is a clear product of his upbringing, and he feels very real and likeable, if a bit older than his 12 years.

However, my favorite character is hands-down Suzy Turquoise Blue, Arthur’s…well, sidekick would probably be the best term. Suzy was brought to the House by the Pied Pier hundreds of years ago and is savvy and sharp as a tack. Her cockney tomboyishness, plucky dependability – she is literally the only entity in the House Arthur can trust absolutely – and rare but heartbreaking moments of pathos make her incredibly entertaining and appealing.

Arthur’s other main support is Leaf, a relatively new friend from the ordinary world who gets pulled into Arthur’s adventures in the House by accident. Leaf does quite a respectable job for herself in the House, despite lacking Arthur’s magical protection as the Heir and Suzy’s resilient Piper’s child nature and centuries of experience. She repeatedly finds herself separated from Arthur, saving their ordinary town while Arthur saves the House and up against tremendous odds, but she keeps at it doggedly.

And there is blessedly no nonsense about romance with Arthur or any kind of rivalry between Suzy and Leaf. They’re both just there to help a friend and save reality. One of my favorite moments, in fact, is when they team up to save Arthur from a seemingly unkillable foe, then make fun of him. Go Suzy and Leaf!

As mentioned before, Superior Saturday is kind of long and plodding and a bit boring. It’s not a swashbuckling, rollicking adventure like Mister Monday or Drowned Wednesday, or a dark, sinister nail-biter like Grim Tuesday or Sir Thursday. Still, the world remains fascinating, Suzy and Leaf remain wonderful, and Arthur’s gradual change from an ordinary boy into something not quite a Denizen but definitely not human is compelling, and I am on the edge of my seat for the final volume, Lord Sunday (not least because Saturday ends on a cliffhanger!). Four cupcakes, and some sprinkles for Suzy and Leaf.

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