Across the Wall

Author: Garth Nix
Harper Collins
RRP: 6.99, US $7.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 722146 2
Available 01 October 2007

Writers are terrible hoarders, in a sense they have to be as ideas can come at anytime and from anywhere. The jottings, often as not, go nowhere or become absorbed into other, later, works. Even if completed, these vignettes often do not find a home. Across the Water: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories by Garth Nix is such a collection of jottings which finally made it into completed pieces and found a home.

Nix is an Australian author of adolescent fantasy novels, best known for his Seventh Tower and Old Kingdom series. Across the Water is not strictly a collection of short stories. The first story, Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case, is a novella set in the Old Kingdom and will be the one which will be of most interest to Nix fans. Non Nix fans may struggle a bit as there are references to that world within the story, which have no explanation. It's a bit like having a story of a noble attending Aragorn's wedding without any idea of the background or history. Also it is the only story actually set in this fictional world, which may disappoint some dedicated readers hoping for a collection of Old Kingdom stories. That said, the story of Nicholas's unfortunate meeting with a demon at his uncle's house remains a rip roaring adventure.

The rest of the stories cover many fantasy elements. Under the Lake is a retelling of the Arthurian legend of the lady in the lake but this time twisting it so that she is more monster than goddess. Not content with one Arthurian tale Nix also includes a Merlin story with Hearts Desire.

As well as legend, Nix includes a number of fairy stories, some re-workings of well know stories as in the re-imagining of Hansel and Gretel in Hansel's Eyes, but also a very poignant original story in Three Roses.

The rest of the stories cover a multitude of genres and story types and even includes a miniature multiple end adventure game in Down to the Scum Quarter. In Hope Chest, Nix revels in his love of Western stories, though, by his own admission is unable to refrain from injecting a fantasy element even here.

The remaining stories, The Hill Charlie Rabbit, From the Lighthouse, Lightning Bringer, My New Really Epic Fantasy Series and Endings are a hodgepodge of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Nix admits that these stories cover an extensive period of his writing career, and so the quality can be variable. Undoubtedly the first story is the strongest and will be the one that fans of his novels will be buying the book for, however some of the shorter pieces have a lot going for them. I was especially touched by Endings and Three Roses. His writing style is straight forward and you get the feeling that the author behind the book is most likely a decent bloke.

As well as the book having an introduction, each of the stories has a small preface telling you something about the story. They do not provide any depth of detail into the writing process, but their inclusion is welcome none the less. The book is rounded off with a couple of pages of frequently asked questions and, bizarrely enough, Garth Nix is his real name.

Ultimately, the book is more of a Nix taster, if, like me, you have never read one of his previous novels it might just tempt you into reading his other fantasy series.

Charles Packer

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