Review: Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

Garth Nix, famed author of the instant fantasy classic Sabriel and its successors, has a new book coming out this month, and it’s not what you’d expect. Newt’s Emerald is a young adult regency romance full of clever disguises, powerful magic, daring rescues, and surprising secrets. Lady Truthful Newington is a restless country aristocrat who gets a chance at adventure when a precious family heirloom is stolen on her eighteenth birthday. Truthful goes to London in pursuit of the gem, where she dresses like a man with the aid of her Great-aunt Ermintrude and a bewitched mustache in order to move freely around the city. But Truthful isn’t the only one in London who isn’t who she says she is.

NewtsEmeraldOnce successfully disguised as her French cousin Henri de Vienne, Truthful encounters arrogant but dashing Major Charles Harnett and enlists his help in finding the emerald. It turns out the gem is more than just a pretty piece of finery; it has latent magical powers with the potential to bring about great destruction if the thief can figure out how to unlock them. Truthful and Charles race against time to find the emerald before it is too late, hindered here and there by confusing emotions, misunderstandings, a compulsion to hide things from each other, and the dictums of London high society.

This book is marketed towards young adults (it says ages 13 and up on the back), the same general age range of the Sabriel  books, but I think the audiences are not quite the same. While Sabriel is an epic high fantasy with some moments that are quite dark, Newt’s Emerald is a slightly sillier and simpler adventure story. That is not to say mature readers would not enjoy it, but only to expect it to be a light-hearted read.

emeraldAs I started reading, I was struck by the remarking similarity of the premise with that of another book I was reading at the same time, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. The Moonstone is a 19th century novel hailed as the first detective novel written in English. Both books feature magical precious stones being presented to a young lady on her birthday, only to be stolen in the middle of the party. Here the similarities draw to an end, though, as The Moonstone introduces what are now common tropes in the mystery genre such as red herrings, many false suspects, and a reconstruction of the crime, while Truthful and Charles determine the identity of the thief fairly quickly.

One thing I like about this book is that while it was inspired by the regency romances of Georgette Heyer and 19th century classics of Jane Austen, it is written in a style that is very accessible. If you want to know about the genre that’s got everyone cheering for the daring heroines and swooning over the Mr. Darcys of the literary world but are bored to tears by Pride and Prejudice, you might want to check out Newt’s Emerald. Nix is careful to follow the model of the classics he loves, but shows much greater consideration than the writers of the 19th century by providing a translation in footnotes every time his characters slip into French as the upper class were prone to do at that time.

Newt’s Emerald is due to come out on Oct 13, 2015. You can purchase it at your local bookstore or preorder it now on Amazon.

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