At the epicenter of the universe is the House, a sort of celestial bureaucracy that is responsible for recording everything that happens in the Secondary Realms (the world as we know it). It is the Architect who is responsible for creating all this, with a range of guidelines and rules in place for keeping order in each world.
Named after the days of the week and personifying the seven deadly sins, the trustees took over the House when the Architect disappeared, disregarding the instructions she left behind in the form of the Will. As such, they have failed to appoint the Rightful Heir that the Will stipulates should take over in the Architect’s absence. It is not until several thousand years pass that a piece of the Will manages to escape its imprisonment and find the Rightful Heir to defeat the seven trustees and claim the keys to the kingdom.
By this stage, if you have not yet been introduced to the world of Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom heptalogy, then there’s no point in starting here. As you can see from the above summary, this is a complex story with a multitude of characters and subplots. Needless to say, any reader who doesn’t have the previous four books under his belt will be hopelessly lost by what takes place here. Get yourself back to Mister Monday and work your way up from there.
For everyone else, this installment picks up right where Sir Thursday left off, in the Friday of the longest week of Arthur Penhaligon’s life. Now with four Trustees taken care of, as well as four aspects of the Will reunited in the formidable Dame Primus, Arthur turns his attention to Lady Friday. Surprisingly, this trustee has decided to abdicate in order to pursue her own interests in the Secondary Realms. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be that easy for Arthur: she’s leaving her key to whoever can get to it first, and so it’s a race between Arthur, the dangerous Superior Saturday, and the enigmatic Piper to reach Friday’s scriptorium and the key first.
Together with familiar allies Suzy Turquoise Blue and Fred Initial Numbers Gold, Arthur sets out across the House which is swiftly becoming a war zone, filled with skirmishes, booby-traps and new acquaintances that may or may not be trustworthy. That’s not the only thing he’s got to worry about: every time Arthur uses the power of the key, he becomes more contaminated by its magic. Should he become a full Denizen, he won’t be able to return home. This leads to several interesting situations in which Arthur must use his brain power instead of magic in order to solve his problems, and every time he is forced to rely on the key, the reader winces at the loss of his humanity.
Meanwhile, his mortal-friend Leaf (her parents were hippies) finds herself trapped in the House when she follows Lady Friday, and witnesses her sampling of the happy experiences of the sleepers she’s gathered, including her Aunt Mango. Making her own plans to try and save her aunt, Leaf undergoes her own challenges as she tries to negotiate this dangerous world.
To be honest, I didn’t find that this was best installment of the series. The setting seemed a little bland this time around, especially when compared to the likes of the Great Maze and the Outer Sea, and it suffers from “middle book” syndrome in that nothing really gets started, and nothing really gets resolved (and yes, I suppose you could say that about the last three books, but by this stage, the “get the key” plot is getting somewhat formulaic). Furthermore Lady Friday is hardly the most interesting of the trustees: she has no real agenda except to be left alone.
That said however, there is plenty here to enjoy. As both his family and life as he knows it slips away from him, Arthur also takes more responsibility for what is happening around him. The reluctant hero has always been sharp and compassionate, but here he is more proactive: making plans, taking charge, and declaring himself as the Rightful Heir with confidence and authority. The story moves along at a rapid pace, and our characters struggle onward, make mistakes, experience regret and triumph, and sometimes get lucky. At all times, you feel their determination and fatigue, and when they emerge victorious from a particular trial, the reader really feels that they deserve that success.
As usual, Nix’s wordplay is always fun; in this case we have “Artful Loungers,” a character called Peter Pirkin Paper Pusher, and someone yelling: “Stop the press!” (It’s not what you think).
There are only two books left in this series, and it feels as though it’s time to wrap things up. All the pieces are in place: I’m looking forward to seeing what Nix has planned for the conclusion.