Clariel is another wonderful addition to the world of the Old Kingdom, with magic (good and bad), Abhorsens dealing with the dead, and a complex and compelling young woman growing up in a difficult world with a difficult family. There’s adventure and misadventure, a few friends, unwanted romance, moving to a new place and being forced to do what you don’t want to do. A lot of people – I’m going to assume, anyway – will be able to identify with Clariel being forced to go somewhere and consider a future that are neither of her own choosing; I could absolutely identify with her desire to just be left alone. The first is something that young adults are often dealing with in novels; the second is rarer, and it was really nice to see, rather than always having it suggested that gregariousness and being in groups is automatically a good thing and to be desired.
There was one thing that frustrated me enormously, and it has nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with my desire to see sentences constructed well: there were far, far too many comma splices. They prevent sentence flow and sometimes they actively interfere with meaning making. And now I can’t find any examples but THEY ARE THERE.
For those of us who know and love the ‘original’ Abhorsen trilogy, Clariel (set 600 years before Sabriel) is a little bit unbearable. While those books take place in an Old Kingdom bereft of a king, at least the Abhorsen is doing his job – and I submit that the Abhorsen making sure that the dead stay dead, and that necromancers aren’t being evil, is of more immediate import than a king making laws. Yes the lawlessness helps the necromancers, but at least the Charter Magic is strong and there is someone to combat the problems. … I found this excruciating.
When I first heard about this I thought it was a sequel, and I was kinda hoping for a continuation of Lirael. Then someone told me it was a prequel, and I immediately wondered if it was the story of Chlorr of the Mask given it’s suggested she was an Abhorsen and OMG I WAS RIGHT. I was SUPER excited to realise that Clariel would indeed eventually become Chlorr, and I loved how Nix made this more and more obvious but actually only confirms it right at the very end – in fact not in the story proper. Of course it’s pretty obvious when she puts on the mask. And I really love that this book absolutely stands alone… and actually now it occurs to me that I kinda wish Nix hadn’t confirmed her as Chlorr, because that’s a spoiler for people who come to this fresh. Sigh. Anyway, this is probably the darkest of the Abhorsen books so far, but perhaps only for those of us with knowledge of the future: it looks like Clariel could possibly avoid Free Magic, although of course that conniving Mogget certainly is going out of his way to make that not be the case. MOGGET. That treacherous beast. Imagine coming to Sabriel etc knowing what Mogget is actually capable of! That’s going to really influence your reading. I was intrigued that there was no connection with the non-magic world, given how wide-ranging it is otherwise, and the suggestion that the Old Kingdom and magical territory apparently extend quite a lot further than might be guessed from the original books. And how on EARTH does the Abhorsen family fall so far?!?
I’m excited that Nix is writing another in the Old Kingdom, too – this time following on from the original set!