Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review - Clariel by Garth Nix

   Clariel (Abhorsen, #4)
Genre: YA Fantasy 
Hardcover: 382 pgs
Source: Purchased
Add It // Buy It
Rating: 4/5 

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.

I have been trying to sort out my thoughts about this book for weeks! I gave it a four star rating, but I have a lot of feelings about this installment in the Abhorsen world. This is more of a discussion/review than straight out review of the book though. The review section doesn't contain spoilers, but I've separated out a section for discussion on some points that does contain spoilers for this book and the Old Kingdom Series.


This book is set a few hundred years before Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen, but it doesn't seem like a prequel to me. Personally, I would read the original trilogy first, then Clariel. There isn't as much explanation of magic or the world and that is what really drew me into the series originally. I think it was easier for me to love Clariel if you already love her surroundings and had a complete picture of her surroundings.

Clariel lives in a very different Old Kingdom than the original trilogy. I loved seeing the Old Kingdom before it became the wild place it is during the trilogy. Once again Nix has impressed  and awed me with his world building skills. It feels like he has built an entirely new world even though there are recognizable elements from Sabriel and Lirael's era. The political and social world of Belisaere is rich and complex. Even though Clariel is new to her surroundings, she is very resistant to learning anything new or different. It makes it a little harder to learn about the Old Kingdom through her. We do get to see how the guilds work and how the dead are not the only dangers in the Old Kingdom at this time. There are political dangers as well as threats from those who do not use magic at all.

Even though this was different than the Old Kingdom Trilogy, I appreciated how different it was. Nix is so adept at writing his heroines. They all have their flaws and challenges, but they are all trying to find their place in the world. Clariel is different though. She is having a hard time adjusting to her new surroundings, and I felt for her. My heart twisted so many times. She is struggling like so many of us do at her age. A lot of heroines in books can so easily step into the role they have been set up to play and even if they have flaws, they play their role perfectly. It makes for great stories, but what about the people who can't get it right immediately?

Overall, I think a lot of people are going to love or dislike this book. I've seen a lot of complaints about Clariel and I can see where people are coming from. However, I think she is a character that breaks the mold. She is part of a larger history of the Old Kingdom. I found her story interesting and I applaud Nix for writing a character who is difficult to like. I agree this is isn't my favorite Old Kingdom story, that honor still goes to Sabriel, but this is a great addition to the history and story of this world.

Full stop if you haven't read this book or the Abhorsen series. I highly recommend them and need to get some of my thoughts out after the break!

Discussion: (spoilers ahead)  

I found Clariel to be a very interesting character, but a bit difficult to love. She is fierce and strong willed. Of course she makes mistakes, but its easy to understand. She is focused on one goal which makes her venerable and a bit narrow minded. I think she is easy to relate to even if she is hard to love. Who hasn't been thrown into a situation where all they wish for is to go back to the comfort and familiarity of home. Yes, she is selfish and frustrating, but she is a socially awkward teenager who is thrown into a new situation with few resources to find her footing. Of course, she is going to be resentful and seem like a recluse!

I thought it was interesting that Nix combined her struggles. There were ones we can understand like to being shy and trying to define her sexuality and some that would be more difficult like her Bezerker Rage and difficulty with Charter Magic. It made it easier for me to connect with her when I was frustrated she was being selfish. I'm very torn about her. I liked her, but was also dissapointed she wasn't more like Nix's other heroines.

Everything we know from the Old Kingdom Trilogy seems to be completely reversed in this book. There is very little magic of any kind in this book, which I was a little disappointed in, but the fantasy world is still full of interesting characters and situations. Once again Nix took me off guard. This book fills in so many of the gaps in the history of the Old Kingdom. You can see the trouble brewing and, if you've read the original trilogy, you can see how this leads to As much as this story is about Clariel, it is also bigger than her. I cannot describe how delighted I was to piece together more of the past and the future. Nix writes this world with such rich history that some of the characters know about, but can't talk about so I love seeing more of it.

I found the Abhorsens, King and Guilds to be especially interesting. It was harder for me to like this version of the Old Kingdom, but I like how this period of history makes the world more complex. It makes me wonder how many more stories Nix has in mind and how much more of the history he has mapped out. I'd love to see how Touchstone fits into all this and I think his story would be interesting to add to this. I was a little disappointed we didn't see or hear anything about Ancelstierre. It was curious to me that it wouldn't be mentioned at all.

Please let me know what you think of any or all of these books. I love this series and know there will be another installment of some kind coming this year! From the description it sounds like this will be another short story collection. I'll add the cover and description here if you want to check it out.

To Hold the Bridge
Far to the north of the magical Old Kingdom, the Greenwash Bridge Company has been building a bridge for almost a hundred years. It is not an easy task, for many dangers threaten the bridge builders, from nomad raiders to Free Magic sorcerers. Despite the danger, Morghan wants nothing more than to join the Bridge Company as a cadet. But the company takes only the best, the most skillful Charter mages, and trains them hard, for the night might come when only a single young cadet must hold the bridge against many foes. Will Morghan be that cadet?

Also included in this remarkable collection are eighteen short stories that showcase Nix’s versatility as he adds a fantastical twist on an array of genres including science fiction, paranormal, realistic fiction, mystery, and adventure. 

Happy Reading!

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