In a departure from his usual style, multi award-winning science fiction and fantasy author, Garth Nix, has penned a brisk and playful regency romance in Newt’s Emerald. When a precious family heirloom, the Newington Emerald, is stolen, young Lady Truthful Newington determines to set off in pursuit of the culprit. This chase will take her to London, where she must assume the guise of a young French nobleman in order to discover further clues to aid her in unravelling the mystery. With the help of a wonderfully drawn great aunt, Lady Badgery, Truthful finds herself enmeshed in a world of rogues, dashing gentlemen, high society, and dastardly sorcery.
Fittingly, Nix has peppered this romantic comedy of errors and intrigue with a substantial and clever sprinkling of the highbrow vocab of yesteryear. I, for one, learned a range of historical terms and turns of phrase, and Nix even helpfully includes a glossary of terms at the back of the book. It comes as no surprise to find that he cites Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, and Patrick O’Brien as influences, having discovered their work as a teen. Newt’s Emerald, in fact, is the final incarnation of a manuscript Nix had first started writing all the way back in 1990.
And it’s good news for his readership that he returned to that earlier manuscript and crafted it into this rollicking, entertaining story. As a central character, Truthful is charming and vivid, and is possessed of a lively wit and impressive independence, despite her tender age. When she encounters the dashing and courageous Major Hartnett (‘of his Britannic Majesty’s Ninety-Fifth Regiment of Rifles’, no less), you bet you’ll be hoping for sparks to start flying. But Nix cleverly weaves the romantic element in with the fantasy and adventure – this isn’t your run-of-the-mill, teen romance. There are conniving characters to outwit, sleights of hand to perform, and a number of surprises that will delight you as they are revealed.
Although I loved earnest and principled Truthful, determined Hartnett, and even the evil sorceress, it was Lady Badgery who really stole my heart – a dry, acerbic, yet wise woman who suffers no fools and does whatever it takes to protect her great-niece, however frustrating that task sometimes proves to be. An eccentric character, she gads about dressed in robes and a favourite fez – sleeping when it suits her and dispensing with any censorship in her often caustic exchanges with visitors who irritate her. Essentially, she’s that unabashedly dotty, unapologetic old great aunt we all secretly hope to become one day.
Newt’s Emerald is a light-hearted, easy-to-read little jewel of a book and one which is sure to lift your spirits with its delightful characters and sense of downright fun. Grab a copy, settle in, and lose yourself in the ornate prose, exciting adventure, and, of course, romance.
Paperback, 232 pages
Published August 23rd 2015 by Allen & Unwin