Book: Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen
Author: Garth Nix
Age Range: 13 and up
Clariel is the long-awaited fourth book (a prequel to the others) in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series (following Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen). I read the previous books back before I started my bog, and my memory is more of tone than of details at this point. However, I still enjoyed returning to Nix's world of Abhorsen, Clayr, and Royal bloodlines, and the Charter Magic that links them all. And I very much liked Clariel, possibly the most unabashedly introverted heroine I have ever run across.
Clariel begins as 17-year-old Clariel moves with her parents from the small town of Estwael, located in the Great Forest, to the capital city of Belisaere. Clariel's mother has been invited to join the High Guild of Goldsmiths, an important position in the city. Clariel's entreaties to remain in the forest with her aunt have been ignored. In the city, Clariel finds a host of unaccustomed expectations, from the wearing of elaborate clothes and makeup to the need to be accompanied everywhere by guards. But her chafing against these requirements is nothing compared to her horror at the notion that she should marry the arrogant son of the power-hungry Governor. Clariel, relative to both the Abhorsen and the King, finds herself a pawn in various schemes. It's only when she starts to understand her own nature, however, that she is able to take matters into her own hands.
Clariel is a strong heroine, one who knows her own mind (even when the reader can see that she may be making a mistake). She has no interest in romance or marriage. Her deepest wish is to join the people who patrol the Great Forest, and live on her own in a little house. She finds the forest soul-affirming, and the stone-filled city depleting. Personally, I found her a breath of fresh air. She also has an interesting ability / disability (it's a bit of a mixed bag), but I will leave readers to learn about that on their own.
The plot in Clariel is full of twists and battles. There is a fair bit of violence, and of magic. An author's note at the end places Clariel in the context of the later books. With one notable exception, the link, in terms of characters, is rather remote (unless I am missing something in my poor memory of the earlier books), but the world-building and magic that Nix has created carry through (including the nature of the Abhorsen, who can visit the world of death).
Nix's writing, as usual, is eloquent and vivid in detail. Like this:
"The next morning dawned bright and clear, and even more detestable to Clariel than ever. The sunlight seemed to penetrate everywhere, accompanied by the dull,ever-present noise of the city, and there was no quiet, cool place to hide, no forest glad to shelter in." (Chapter Four)
"You thought that we limit the choices of our students?" asked Ader. "We do not, but it is a sad fact that the great majority limit themselves. You might find it best to keep your ambition secret, Lady Clariel. Many here would consider it too small, a thing to be made fun of. However, all I am concerned with is that we equip you both for the possibility of other futures, and for the one you yourself envisage." (Chapter Five)
Fans of the Abhorsen trilogy will definitely enjoy the opportunity that Clariel offers to re-visit the Old Kingdom. Personally, I think I would have gotten more out of Clariel had I read it closer in time to the earlier books. I am envious of younger readers who can dive into them all now for the first time, back to back. Clariel is a must-purchase for high school libraries, and for adult fans of the series. To me, it feels more suitable for high school than middle school (violence, a reference to Clariel having had sex, and a generally dark tone), though I'm sure that some younger readers may be unable to resist. All in all, I highly recommend Clariel - it is a welcome return to a compelling world, with an intriguing and relatable protagonist.
Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperTeen)
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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