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The rain keeps coming down
on 5 August 2008
Arthur Penhaligan's week is almost over, but unfortunately it's not getting any better. Not for him, and not for the House.
In fact, just about everything is tumbling down in the penultimate book of Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series, "Superior Saturday," in which Arthur finally encounters the malevolent sorceress who's been messing things up throughout the series. It's a suitably chaotic and haunting story, and Arthur's internal struggles and new discoveries are a pretty fascinating read -- but don't expect it to really end on anything but a massive cliffhanger.
Arthur receives an emergency call from his brother, who warns him that the Army is about to nuke their entire town. Desperate, Arthur tries to shield the town, but instead ends up slowing time. Unfortunately that is only one of his worries: the magic of the Keys is transforming Arthur's body and mind into something inhuman, and Nothing is eroding away the very foundations of the House. To stop it, he must somehow steal away Superior Saturday's power, and he has to rely on one of the less reliable forces in the House to smuggle himself and Suzy into Saturday's domain.
While Leaf and her pal struggle to save Friday's sleeping victims, Arthur explores Saturday's realm. Turns out Saturday is building a vast tower built by Piper's Children and overseen by sorcerers, so she can reach the Incomparable Gardens that Lord Sunday rules -- and what's more, Arthur is having a lot of trouble locating the Will. His only hope is to climb the tower with Saturday's sorcerous army -- but what awaits them at the top?
"Superior Saturday" is not just saturated in rain, but in desperation. A lot of bad things are happening all at once, since the House is about to collapse, the town is about to be bombed by the Army, all the Piper's rats and children are suspect, and Arthur has found that he can't even trust Dame Primus anymore. There are a lot of bad things going on in "Superior Saturday," but Nix also unfolds some intriguing new revelations about the House and its purpose, during another visit to the imprisoned Old One.
And Nix somehow loads all of this into the plot without making it feel clunky or infodumpy. He spins a suitably dark and gloomy atmosphere over Saturday's domain, full of steampunk-style machinary and lots of ever-drizzling rain. It moves pretty gradually for awhile, but speeds up after Arthur locates the Will, and bumps into another old enemy. And Nix isn't afraid to throw in some horror moments, such as an unfortunate Denizen whose body was dissolved by Nothing, or the chaotic attacks on Saturday's army during the climax.
The biggest problem is that "Superior Saturday" doesn't really end -- the action and tension slowly build for a long time, only to snap like a recoiling spring... on a cliffhanger. Rather than being story unto itself, it's the first half of a story that "Lord Sunday" will finish.
While Arthur seems to accept his transformation a bit too easily, his struggles with his inhuman thoughts ("For a moment he even felt like striking Scamandros, or forcing the Denizen to prostrate himself and beg forgiveness") and rapidly changing body are well-drawn. And Nix raises some intriguing questions about just what it is that Arthur is turning into, since it's made quite clear that he's not transforming into a run-of-the-mill Denizen.
While it has no real ending, "Superior Saturday" is a dark, mildly horrific ride through what is left of the House, and promises a spellbinding finale in the final Keys to the Kingdom novel. An enthralling little book, so long as you don't mind waiting for what comes next.