Clariel is the daughter of one of the most notable families in the Old Kingdom, with blood relations to the Abhorsen and, most important, to the King. She dreams of living a simple life but discovers this is hard to achieve when a dangerous Free Magic creature is loose in the city, her parents want to marry her off to a killer, and there is a plot brewing against the old and withdrawn King Orrikan. When Clariel is drawn into the efforts to find and capture the creature, she finds hidden sorcery within herself, yet it is magic that carries great dangers. Can she rise above the temptation of power, escape the unwanted marriage, and save the King?
First off, if you’re like me and expecting dragons from the get-go and was VERY EXCITED ABOUT IT– sorry, but it doesn’t show up until way at the end and it’s not even a real dragon, so.
Secondly, forget the thing with the dragon because Clariel is AMAZING and WONDERFUL and it was totally worth obsessing over for a year or so prior to publishing. No regrets!
I love the Abhorsen series. A LOT. And so I was super excited to find out that Garth Nix was writing another book set in that world. Tbh, the only thing I’d be excited about MORE is if Diana Wynne Jones came back from the dead and said she was writing another Chrestomanci book. I spent a lot of time thinking about Clariel and waiting for it to come out, and it did not disappoint me.
It’s a prequel, so you don’t have to have read the other books in the series to enjoy this one. At the same time, I’m not sure I’d entirely recommend starting with it, either. Technically it takes place before any of the events in Sabriel, though echoes of things that happened in Clariel can be found in the later books. But I don’t think a new-to-the-series reader would pick up on those echoes until maybe book three, and that seems almost like a waste. Much more satisfying to start from Sabriel and go forward until you hit Clariel, I think.
Anyway, the interesting thing about Clariel is that it stars someone who is a villain in later books. She doesn’t start off that way, of course, and she’s not even a particularly bad person in this book. She just has impulse control problems, and she makes the wrong sort of friends (*cough*Mogget*cough*). I personally adore a good turning-into-a-villain story, especially when they aren’t ridiculous and over the top. Clariel’s fall is a slow one, but it’s one that she can’t recover from.
Clariel’s world is also deteriorating. Nobody believes in the Charter1 any longer, even going so far as make it fashionable to cover up one’s Charter mark2 with heavy makeup. The king has checked out of ruling entirely, spending his days hiding in his castle waiting for his runaway daughter to re-appear and take over. And the Abhorsens spend literally all their time hunting instead of doing their job.
Everyone’s forgotten what’s important and so their society is on the brink of collapse. It’s like the pebble that starts rolling down a hill, gathering moss and rocks and mud and a huge mess, until at the end it’s a massive deadly thing about to smash your house in. This is the beginning of the end, and nobody realizes it.
But also very fascinating, and it makes me want to reread the other Abhorsen books so I can follow that pebble on its journey to the bottom.
Read: October 24-28, 2014
Sidenote: Clariel is asexual/aromantic! She doesn’t call it that, of course, but she spells it out plainly a few times in the story. It’s not presented as something that’s wrong with her, nor even something all that unusual, but it’s still an important part of her character. Woohoo!