My good friend Ian Harding read Clariel, which I’ve been really wanting to read for ages! He agreed to write a review for me – plus he’s an English teacher too so he knows what he’s talking about. Anyway, I still want to read this book, even if I’m lowering my expectations…
Thanks for the guest spot Anna.
I’ll begin by confessing that I’m a huge fan of Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom novels: Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen rank as some of my favourite reads of young adult fiction. So when I saw that Nix was bringing out a new novel focusing on the era before the Sabriel trilogy, I was excited to delve once again into the world of the Old Kingdom.
Turning the first few pages of Clariel, I was not disappointed. It was like being reunited with an old friend. The opening possessed the same magic, with a malevolent presence whose intentions the reader does not know but assumes will have a central role later in the story.
The main story which this presence will be involved in is simple enough: the Old Kingdom is in trouble. Those on whom the magic of the Kingdom depends are refusing to fulfill their roles and duties: the King refuses to rule; the Abhorsen refuses to ensure those who are dead stay so; and the Clayr people, whose role it is to see the future, are silent.
Against this backdrop, the story is intriguing. Has the malevolent presence come to destroy the Royals, the Abhorsens and the Clayr utterly? I was gripped.
Into this highly charged atmosphere, the reader is introduced to the main character: Clariel. Clariel has recently moved from the western town of Estwael to the capital city, Belisaere. She longs for nothing more than to return to the town and the Great Forest. Needless to say, her parents are deaf to her pleas and long for her to mature past her ‘childishness’.
This is where the story began to unravel for me. Put simply, I didn’t like the main character, Clariel. She is misunderstood by her parents, something that makes the reader sympathise with her. And this should be enough. But, for me, it is not. She seems to completely disregard the problems in front of her (as well as how she may help to resolve them), selfishly pursuing her own ambitions above everything else. I wanted to root for her but found myself becoming increasingly more frustrated with her. This frustration was not helped by the fact that other characters are pursuing similarly selfish paths (the King and the Abhorsen spring to mind). Perhaps this says more about me though; I prefer my heroes to be more selfless.
Despite this flaw, I did enjoy the book. There’s a moment early in the novel which ignites like a firework and provokes the hero into action, sending her on her quest. The end too satisfied whilst leaving a small thread which will almost certainly lead towards another installment. And whilst this book did not quite live up to its promise, I feel Nix may have set the platform for a more compelling sequel. I’m hoping this one has more likeable leading characters because the world he has created is one worth saving.