There’s something special about a book you read in childhood. It etches itself in your memory, becoming a part of you, taking up residence inside you as you take the next step into adult life.
For myself, a number of these influential books were written by none other than Australian best-selling author Garth Nix. The Seventh Tower, Keys to the Kingdom and Old Kingdom series, for instance, have all etched themselves deep in my psyche – their magical worlds all a firm part of my own childhood.
And now comes Nix’s latest masterpiece, Angel Mage. A complex, fantasy adventure full of magic, musketeers, angels and beastlings!
This book is, in itself, a love letter to a book that etched itself on Nix’s own childhood: The Three Musketeers. In fact, Nix even dedicates Angel Mage to Alexandre Dumas. And it’s not hard to see why.
The setting of Sarance is clearly an alternate, 17th century France. Nowhere is this more evident than in the map included in the opening pages, where the geography of the lands of Sarance, Alba and Ystara unmistakably imitate that of France, England and Spain (respectively). And if that isn’t enough to convince you, there’s the fact that the four heroes become musketeers themselves (there’s even a Musketeer Captain named Dartagnan)!
But Angel Mage is so much more than just a magical twist on The Three Musketeers. When you read Angel Mage, you step into an intricate world with a complex history. You are captivated by the lure of angelic sorcery. You are transfixed by a horrific Ash Blood Plague (which, quite honestly, seems like a mix between the Black Plague and what happens after Thanos’ snap in Avengers: Infinity War). And at the heart of it all is a mystery you find yourself desperate to solve: The mystery of the Maid of Ellanda…
One of my absolute favourite things about this book, though, was Nix’s fantastic portrayal of female characters. In Angel Mage, the majority of characters in positions of power are women – and many of these women are women of colour. Considering when you find yourself reading titles such as ‘Captain’ or ‘Cardinal’, you immediately picture a middle-aged, white man, it’s refreshing to have these assumptions challenged.
And not only that, but to have them challenged in such an unassuming way. There’s no big song and dance about it. No characters bumbling in, like Donkey from Shrek, exclaiming, “You’re a GIRL dragon?!”, or “You’re a GIRL Cardinal?” The characters are simply treated the way they would be if they were male. And it’s exactly this kind of normalised representation we so desperately need to see in modern fiction.
Thankfully, Garth Nix seems to understand just how powerful representation can be in shaping our attitudes and understanding of the world around us.
So if you’re looking for your next fantasy adventure, look no further than Angel Mage. An alternate 17th-century tale, made for 21st-century readers.
QBD Books is currently running an ‘Angel Mage’ giveaway, all the details of which you can find via Facebook.