The Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix is a fantastic seven-book series which follows one boy's pulse-racing journey through a world where seven mysterious and powerful Trustees vie for control -- a realm that he, an asthmatic seventh-grader, is destined to save.
If he survives the next seven days, that is.
Two weeks after moving to a new town, Arthur Penhaligon (pen-HAL-uh-gun) is begrudgingly participating in the all-grade cross-country run. Even though he is severely asthmatic and has recently been hospitalized for his condition, he is forced to take part in the weekly event. When he begins his trudge across campus, little does that he will soon stumble upon what looks to be the minute hand of an antique clock. The piece is actually one of the Keys to the Kingdom, and handling it makes Arthur the Rightful Heir to the Realm, a place where otherworldly beings have long been engaged in a power struggle and are loathe to welcome the presence of a human child, much less acknowledge his title. The minute hand, the Key, leads Arthur to a mysterious house in another Universe where there's a Will, a (hard) way, and seven strange Keepers named after days. With no time to lose, Arthur must quickly determine who's good and who's up to no good, who can help him and who will hurt him.
This enchanting series is sure to delight fans of fantasy classics such as The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende as well as followers of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling and the OutCast quartet by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski. Each book leads readers in vastly different lands, ranging from the watery to the industrial. When the locomotives came into play, I dreamt of steampunk. There are gardens and hidden passages, winged beings and mysterious creatures, skies heavy with unending rain and buildings which will never reach their desired destination, magical rings and stairs that appear at will. There's also the Will and assistance from assistants, hindered by the deceit and venom of those who want Arthur gone and/or dead.
Nix populates his world with distinct and dramatic characters. From the greedy Tuesday to the gluttonous Wednesday to the merciless Saturday, each and every one of the Trustees is intimidating and looming to their own degrees. Each Trustee also represents a deadly sin, something which is subtly suggested rather than blatantly stated.
My favorite supporting character was Suzy Turquoise Blue, a daring, quirky girl who has the gumption of Eliza Doolittle. I could see and hear her very clearly as I read the series. I loved her sassy nature, her boldness, and her mannerisms. It was the kind of role I'd love to play.
As with many truly good, solid fantasy books, The Keys to the Kingdom is a coming-of-age story, detailing Arthur's ascent from a sickly boy to a strong young man. Along the way, Arthur must make difficult choices and sacrifices to fully understand, maintain, and realize not only his position in the Realm but also his physical health, and to protect his family members and his newfound friends and companions. When the story began, Arthur was in the right place at the right time - or the wrong time, depending on how you look at it. When the story ends, he is irrevocably changed. His unexpected duality is powerful, and his internal and external struggle to maintain control over both his illness and his self-awareness is captivating, all of which would surely be appreciated by, say, Bastian from The NeverEnding Story or Bindi from The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks. (Note: Though Bindi's book skews a little younger than Arthur's, this reviewer will never forget how she felt when Bindi was 'taken over' by her unhealthy impulses. My jaw may have actually dropped.)
It is crucial that you read the books in order:
#1 Mister Monday
#2 Grim Tuesday
#3 Drowned Wednesday
#4 Sir Thursday
#5 Lady Friday
#6 Superior Saturday
#7 Lord Sunday
To learn more about The Keys to the Kingdom and read and hear excerpts from the books, visit http://www.keystothekingdom.com.au and http://www.scholastic.com/titles/keys/
Related Posts at Bildungsroman:
Booklist: From a Land Down Under
Booklist: Fantasy Novels for Kids and Teens