When lacking in information, go in publication order. Since I’d never read “To Hold the Bridge” before, I figured it would be safest to read that before Goldenhand. Since the former seems to take place higher up on the timeline than even Sabriel, I’m guessing it probably won’t have mattered much. So I spent today reading another Garth Nix anthology. It is, of course, titled after the Old Kingdom story as To Hold the Bridge.
I said yesterday that I really should read more Garth Nix and this collection has cemented that feeling. Once again, his stories run the gamut, though every single one of them is newer than Across the Wall. I mean, the older anthology is over ten years old, but it’s still impressive that Nix has produced enough short fiction since then to create another entire book of it. It also helps that “To Hold the Bridge” is not a novella the way “Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case” is, so it’s shorter and doesn’t take up nearly as much space in the book. Plus this book is four hundred pages long, with plenty of room for stories. On the other hand, none of them get quite as short as some of the contents from last time.
Unlike Across the Wall, To Hold the Bridge is divided into sections. The Old Kingdom story is once again first and stands alone. The rest of the book consists of supernatural creature tales, coming-of-age stories, stories of fighting, silly stuff, and science fiction. We’ve got subjects ranging from LARPing (live action roleplaying) to genocide, and fandoms such as Sherlock Holmes, Hellboy, and John Carter. There’s even, once again, a story I was already familiar with.
That story is “Holly and Iron”, originally appearing in the anthology Wizards (edited by Jack Dann and, surprise surprise, Gardner Dozois). This tale is not Arthurian, though it does also take place in England. Rather, it’s set a thousand years ago after the Norman invasion. Of course, this is a more fantastical retelling, as you might guess from its inclusion in Wizards, but it’s still a worthy recollection. In fact, when I was perusing the table of contents in today’s book, I recognized the title instantly. I even remembered which anthology I’d read it in, which is not always the case. You can guess how good it must be that I can recall so much information about this story so easily.
On the other hand, “Stop!” was featured in The Dragon Book, also edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois and I did not realize this fact until I was adding the short stories here to my database. I can see why I wouldn’t mentally associate the story with that collection as it’s a much less traditional dragon than usual. On the other hand, it’s clearly not as memorable or meaningful to me. A good story, sure, but just not good enough to be of note. Also I tend not to reread The Dragon Book as often as certain other anthologies, such as Immortal Unicorn.
As can be expected, To Hold the Bridge was a delight to read. Garth Nix can make even the most humorous of stories poignant, but may also choose to add humor to his more serious tales. Not always though. I think the real standout, for me personally, was “The Heart of the City”, but again, there were many many good stories and each brought something different to the table. I try to keep picking up anthologies, but I have no regrets whatsoever about this one.