In my post on the YA genre I mentioned two of my favorite YA books of all time, Sabriel and Lirael by Garth Nix. I found Sabriel in what must have been freshman year of high school, and Lirael must have followed on the heels of the first book. Later that year, when I was trying to find my voice in my first blog on LiveJournal, I took the pseudonym Astarael the Sorrowful, a character of sorts from the third book, Abhorsen. My love for these books is fierce and undying, and I continue to reread them whenever I’m craving a beloved favorite.
Garth Nix has finally done what all readers who fall in love with worlds not of their own creating wish authors would do: he returned to the Old Kingdom beyond the Wall, to the Abhorsen’s house, and to Belisaere. I managed to get my hands on an ARC of Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen, book four in Nix’s popular Abhorsen, or Old Kingdom, series.
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 Kilip. 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.
Clariel is an immensely relatable character for anyone who ever just wanted people to leave them alone to do their own thing. Clariel wants nothing more than to leave the city to go live in the forest but people keep getting in her way, and it’s this desire that ultimately leads her into the grip of Free Magic. Garth Nix’s most impressive feat with this new book is not the crafting of a backstory for a character his readers are already familiar with, but in how utterly reasonable the whole thing is: Clariel is a young woman who listens to the wrong advice for the right reasons, and who we know—or at least can guess—ultimately pays the price for it. I found myself rooting for her, even already knowing where she would end up.
Still, while I really enjoyed this book and loved the opportunity to return to this world, I found it hard to believe that it was this thwarted desire that eventually leads Clariel to become Chlorr of the Mask. However, there is a lot of time between the end of the book and the first time we ever see Chlorr, so it’s not difficult to imagine that there might have been some other factors as well. One of those factors might very well be the tempting voices of the Free Magic creatures Clariel frees in order to help her save the kingdom, and who we can guess continue to tempt her in the future. The balance Nix maintains between Clariel and the foreshadowing her rebirth as Chlorr might not be particularly subtle, but neither is it heavy-handed. Many, if not most, of the readers of this book are likely to come to it from the previous ones and don’t need any more set up than that.
Nix’s afterword tells the reader that he’s already writing another book in this series, but also that he’s leaving this character and her time period and returning to the beloved characters of the previous books. This is welcome to readers who want news of those characters, but somewhat disappointing to readers who may have come to like Clariel. For those who want to know about those missing steps in Clariel’s journey towards becoming Chlorr of the Mask, Nix also notes that he’s not entirely sure what else might happen in Clariel’s story.
Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen is written by Garth Nix and will be released tomorrow, October 14, 2014 by HarperCollins.