Author: Garth Nix
Clariel hates the city. Belisaere is nothing like the Great Forest of her home. Buildings. Stone. Politics. But Clariel’s mother Jaciel has opportunities in Belisaere that she didn’t in their country home, and where she goes, the family follows. Their family has ties to both the Abhorsen and the king; and with the current king disinclined to rule, those ties could mean a lot. For Clariel, there is only one concern: leaving as soon as possible. But can she deal with a creature of Free Magic, an unwanted marriage, and a plot to overthrow the king?
At last! Nix finally returns to the Old Kingdom, and fans of the earlier books will need no urging to read this one. But for everything familiar, so much is different. King and Abhorsen have both basically abdicated their responsibilities. Belisaere is on the verge of collapsing, not under rampaging armies of the Dead, but from its own corruption and machinations. City guilds and Charter mages have tried to step up to fill the void, but the whole thing is increasingly unstable and they’re on the verge of the one good push that might topple things for good.
I liked Clariel herself immensely. I can’t think of another book I’ve read period where there was actually a concept of people who can live life single and be happy. And Clariel faces the same kind of puzzled resistance I’ve had when trying to explain that concept to friends or family. I love that Clariel sees through the arrogant Aronzo immediately and feuds with him throughout. And Belatiel so perfectly underlines the awkwardness of trying to be friends with someone who wants to be more than that. Oh yes, and Clariel’s hot temper is actually the royal bloodline’s berserker nature, which might come in handy as long as she can direct it at the right things . . .
Nix has again pulled out all the stops. The setting is unique and well-defined, the action intense, and the characters the strongest part. Clariel hardly gets an introduction to the city before she’s a key player in its future. Which is a little problematic since she has no idea what’s going on and very few people willing to tell her.
Overall this is a story that will stand alone, or serve as an introduction to the Old Kingdom, as well as please long-time series fans. Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen are all set quite a ways in the future, so although the events in Clariel are helpfully explained in relation to them via an author’s note in the back, the ties are not essential to understanding the story at hand. Also, my other favorite part is that the author’s note confirms another Old Kingdom book is in the works, and one starring none other than Nicholas Sayre, who has needed his own novel very badly for a long time. I rate this book Highly Recommended.