Clariel by Garth NixClariel is technically the 4th book in The Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series by Garth Nix...BUT, it takes place about 600 years before the events at the start of Sabriel. It was published 11 years after the end of the initial trilogy, so fans of the series waited a LONG time to go back to the Old Kingdom. And sadly, many people were disappointed upon finally reading this one. I think a lot of them were expecting our new protagonist Clariel to be someone more like Sabriel or Lirael. But Clariel's tale is a far different one indeed...
The Old Kingdom #4
Published October 14th 2014 by HarperCollins
Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilp. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.
With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her - and it is herself she must question most of all.
We're introduced to Clariel right after a curious and rather ominous prologue, and straight away we learn that she's been forced to leave her beloved childhood home in a country for a new life in the city that is expected to further her mother's career. Clariel is not happy about the move and never shies away from making her feelings known. She's always wanted to go off on her own and live in the forest and this move threatens to ruin everything she dreams of. As a self professed loner, there are far too many people in the city for her comfort and she's very worried her parents will try to marry her off, something she is vehemently against - since she considers herself asexual. (YAY for sexual diversity in fantasy!!) Try as she might to reason with her parents, they refuse to listen and honestly don't seem to care much about what their daughter wants because their own plans take precedence. Soon it becomes clear to Clariel that her only way out of this is to run away and return to the forest, so she begins to attempt some kind of a plan that will allow her the freedom she craves.
It may have been luck that, in an attempt to see how many pages my edition of Clariel had, I stumbled upon author Garth Nix's author note at the end and discovered a huge spoiler for the titular character. I feel like knowing where her story was headed allowed me to be more accepting of her in general. In any case, because I'd read some reviews prior to starting this book, I was prepared to dislike Clariel, but I found that I couldn't. Where others criticized her for being selfish or immature, I was more sympathetic. Yes Clariel is selfish and immature, but she's sixteen! At that age, who isn't a little selfish and immature? Clariel is also caring, resourceful, independent and brave. I found that I could sympathize and even relate to her. Unfortunately she's got a lot of hurdles to jump over: her parents for one, her total lack of training with Charter Magic and the fact that she's afflicted with a fury that turns her berserk when she loses control, which is common within the Royal and Abhorsen line...and since she's descendant of both, she might have gotten a double dose. Her path is far from easy.
''Does the walker chose the path, or the path the walker?''
Now I've talked about Clariel's character a lot, but this book is largely focused on the evolution of her character. Despite that, there is also quite a bit of world-building. Nix expertly introduces us the the world 600 years before the birth of Sabriel, fraught with turmoil. The Old Kingdom has always been dark and dangerous but here is a particularly tumultuous. The current Abhorsen and Abhorsen-in-waiting shy away from their duties, the Royal Line has become powerless and the government is corrupt and vying for control. All of this is supposed to be kept under wraps, but when Clariel is thrown in the thick of it, she is forced to uncover all of the secrets. In addition, Magic is seen as unseemly, which might explain why Clariel was never taught properly, which is a key focal point to her development and to the story in general. Not knowing magic in a world full of dangerous magical beings is a pretty big disadvantage and it puts Clariel in a vulnerable position, where she must learn to fight back by whatever means she can manage.
''A passion thwarted will often go astray...''
When all is said and done, Clariel offers a unique and compelling glimpse into the Old Kingdom's history. It was heartbreaking, fascinating and inevitable all at once. The story ends with a definite conclusion, and yet things are also left somewhat open-ended which I thought worked well here. I'm hoping that this was done because there might be ties to the current-day Old Kingdom still left to disover. There's quite a bit of action to be had, but the focus here is on the Clariel and her world. Despite being very different and less immediately likeable than Sabriel and Lirael were, Clariel carved herself a nice little niche in my heart. I wish I could say more but we'd be going into spoiler territory. Anyone who's read this is welcome to DM me on Twitter and chat some more!