Thursday, 23 October 2014

Quick Review: "Clariel"

As promised in my previous post, here’s my review of Garth Nix’s Clariel. In case you didn’t know, Garth Nix is an Australian author, who has written the popular The Old Kingdom Trilogy, and Shade’s Children, among other novels and series’.

Clariel marks Nix’s first return to the Old Kingdom since the novella The Creature in the Case, set six months after the conclusion of Abhorsen, the last book in the trilogy. Clariel plays the more difficult role of prequel, being set 600 years prior to the beginning of Sabriel and The Old Kingdom series. The very nature of a prequel, particularly in this case, is that unless you have read the main series, much of the impact of Clariel’s choices and actions may be lost on you.

As regards the series itself, the Old Kingdom is a world of magic, both good and evil. The two main types of magic are Charter Magic (generally used by the protagonists) and Free Magic (usually the weapon of choice for the antagonists). The Dead also feature strongly, as both mindless minions and more powerful, and more intelligent, monsters.


All throughout the original trilogy, Free and Charter Magic are seen as polar opposites, and it is stated again and again that Charter Magic is good, and that Free Magic is evil. In Clariel, all this is thrown into doubt. Clariel, our heroine, has little aptitude for, or interest in, Charter Magic, despite being a member of two families known for their strength in Charter Magic.

In a recent Q&A, Garth Nix stated that Clariel was given very little control over her own destiny, unlike Sabriel and Lirael, who were basically given free reign to follow a vague goal. Everything in Clariel's life is controlled by some outer force, be it her parents or her very situation. Her struggle for freedom leads her, seemingly inevitably, to Free Magic. The irony is evident in the fact that even though Free Magic is, by its very definition, free, Clariel's use of it does not lead her to greater freedom or happiness.

It is interesting to see how different the attitude of the residents of Belisaere in Clariel as opposed to the earlier novels. It is seen as the domain of servants and the lower classes, and not something for the upper classes to dirty their hands with. Even the Abhorsen, the man charged with keeping the Dead dead, shows little to no interest in his appointed task, and simply wastes his time at hunts.

Clariel features old favourites of the Old Kingdom series, such as Mogget. This sardonic feline plays a far more manipulative role than in previous books. The laxness of the Abhorsen, combined with other factors, bring his true nature as an ancient Free Magic creature far closer to the surface.

If you are a fan of the Old Kingdom series, then this is an absolute must-buy. If you're just a casual reader, then I would recommend reading the original Old Kingdom novels before Clariel. That way, you will fully appreciate the in-world relevance of Clariel. However, I think that the novel can certainly stand up on its own merit. In short, read it!