Friday, May 30, 2008

Manic Monday: Garth Nix' Adventure Tale Drags Under Details

Arthur Penhaligon is supposed to die on Monday. The asthmatic 7th- Grader should breathe his last during a run in P.E., right under the nose of his unsympathetic teacher, but it doesn't happen that way. Instead, something odd occurs. Something very odd that saves his life, but propels him into a bizarre world where paper, clocks and Victorian-style clothing converge in strange and baffling ways.

So begins Mister Monday, the first entry in Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom series. As Arthur sits on the grass, grasping his inhaler, he sees a flash of light. Out of the brightness strolls a butler, pushing a handsome young man in a kind of wheelchair. Arthur believes the strange duo to be a hallucination, but the items they leave behind are very real. When Arthur examines the two objects - the minute hand from a clock and a small notebook with magical properties - he can't make heads or tails of them. He only knows that somehow they are making him see an alternative world that he never knew existed. Suddenly, he notices weird buildings on familiar streets, dog-faced creatures following him to school, and the fact that everyone around him is falling ill from a deadly virus. A surprise visit from a menacing winged goon convinces Arthur that it's time to do something. He slips inside one of the strange, newly-visible structures in town, a "bizarre castle-like monstrosity that had replaced several suburban blocks" (60) - and enters a completely new world.

As Arthur soon finds out - via the resourceful Suzy Turquoise Blue, a girl with a (literal) frog in her throat- the House is a universe in and of itself. Created, then abandoned by the Great Architect, it is now ruled by 7 entities - Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday - all of whom are in charge of different sections of the House. In the Secondary Realms (a.k.a Earth, or the outside world), each controls events on the day bearing his/her name. No one has all of the power needed for omniscience, but they all want it. The world of the House is in chaos. Since Arthur has a portion of one the 7 Keys to the Kingdom, he has become a Rightful Heir, someone who can gather the Keys and bring the House back to order. Arthur has no intention of becoming a hero, but the Will (in the form of a green frog) assures him that helping reunite the House's world will give him the power to stop the disease plaguing his own land. Reluctantly, Arthur accepts the challenge. With help from Suzy Blue and the Will, he traverses the alternate universe, where absolutely anything can happen. He'll take on dinosaurs, a chained beast, treachorous geysers, a high wire made out of spider webbing, writhing snakes, and much more to save not one, but two worlds.

Mister Monday features loads of fast-paced action sequences, and an overall exciting adventure story. However, the details of House history and politics complicate the novel, making it confusing and slow in places. I spent most of the story trying to figure out if it is an allegory of some kind (the Great Architect = God; the Will = God's Will, etc.), because the details seemed to be important and well thought out. Still, I thought they detracted from the story. The characters, on the other hand, kept the tale lively and fun. Arthur Penhaligon is the kind of hero everyone loves - a friendless orphan forced into a situation which will prove his inner strength to himself and others. The Will and Suzy Blue prove to be entertaining and (mostly) helpful sidekicks.

All in all, I enjoyed this book, although I found myself very confused for the first half of the book. Maybe deep thinking is just beyond me this week, but I had trouble wading through all the details and the symbolism that I think is there. When I finally decided to stop overanalyzing, I was able to lose myself in the story. I like the characters and am anxious to see what happens to them in the next 6 books - I just hope the subsequent novels will shy away from all the minutiae of the House and focus more on action and character development. After all, what are Mondays for if not to pave the way for the busy, fun-filled week ahead?

Grade: B

1 comment:

  1. I really liked the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix but for some reason I just haven't picked up this series yet. Thanks for reminding me of it. I really should pick it up!

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