The Left-Handed Booksellers of London (2020) by Garth Nix
Set in a slightly alternate 1980s Britain: Susan Arkshaw has never known her father...not even his name. Her mother, who had her 60s moments as a groupie for various bands, is very vague about that time of her life and mostly won't talk about it when she isn't vague. But Susan is determined to find out what she can using the little scraps she has. There's "Uncle" Frank who is some kind of crime lord in London. There are a few misspelled or misremembered names that her mother has let drop in her more expansive moments. There's the faded reading room ticket--with patron and library name too faint to read. And a silver cigarette case with what may or may not be a coat of arms.
She decides to head to London for the summer to get a job before taking up her position at art school...and to hunt for more clues to her father. She's barely met Uncle Frank and hasn't even had a chance to question him when he's killed (turned to dust with a silver hatpin) by an attractive young man by the name of Merlin. She's all set to call the cops on the killer when a giant louse appears and he kills that too. And that's just the start of the weird crap that starts happening as she gets acquainted with Merlin and the other booksellers of London.
You see, in this version of 1980s Britain, booksellers are the guardians (gatekeepers?) keeping the peace between the Old World of myth and legends filled with Sippers (sortof vampires) and Cauldron-born (zombie-like creatures that obey the will of their creator) and other magical entities. The booksellers have magical skills of their own--from the left-handed booksellers and their fighting skills to the right-handed booksellers with their knowledge and abilities to affect the minds of their enemies. And enemies there are a-plenty...and for some reason they seem to be out to get Susan. Merlin and his sister Vivien come to believe that Susan and her unknown father have something to do with the death of their mother and the three team up to take on the bad guys in this fantastical adventure.
This was a lot of fun to read. I don't read young adult books often, but when I have I've been very lucky in my choices. Booksellers is a lovely mash-up of action/adventure, fantasy, historical fiction, and a little bit of mystery. I read it straight through in one day and enjoyed it more than I've enjoyed anything in a long time. I loved all the literary references that came up (what else would you expect from a book about booksellers?) and I'm giving out bonus points for a reference to Lord Peter Wimsey:
Merlin produced a vintage leather cricket bag adorned with the cryptic gold monogram "PDBW," unstrapped it, and opened it up to receive the swords, replacing them in their scabbards before he put them carefully inside.
It's always a fun surprise to find a mention of Lord Peter in other books. Any Sayers fan should recognize those initials and know just what cricket has to do with Lord Peter. I don't know if Nix plans any more books in the booksellers world, but I would definitely be interested in future adventures if they are anything like as good as this one. ★★★★★
Stories aren't always merely stories, you know. (Merlin; p. 76)
Books help us anchor our souls. Or re-anchor them. (Merlin; p. 162)