Clariel by Garth Nix
Digital Audiobook narrated by Graeme Malcolm
Published by HarperCollins, Listening Library on October 14, 2014
Series: Abhorsen #0.5
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Magic, Young Adult
Length: 382 pages or 11 hours, 55 minutes
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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 Kilp. 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.
Let this be a lesson to anyone who thinks it’s best to keep a young lady “safe”, even if it means keeping her away from her hopes and dreams.
I read Sabriel and the rest of the Old Kingdom stories when I was a wee youngling in high school, but I’ve been wanting to revisit this world for several years. I even got my husband to read it, and I hadn’t managed to reread them yet. I still haven’t. But listening to Clariel brough everything right back. And that’s how a good book does it. Strong world building that sticks with you 13 years later.
You know what I liked best about Clariel? That it’s a villain origin story. And it doesn’t feel like it, at least not at first. You feel like her future stands on the edge of the knife and even though you know where she eventually ends up (or will once you learn her other name), you’re still sort of rooting for her to be a hero. She sticks to her personal truths – in everything from her life goals to her sexual preferences (not interested, not attracted, aceeeee!). She knows what she wants and she will do what she has to in order to get it. Most heroes are like this, but usually fate and the outside characters are on their side.
Clariel doesn’t have allies. She has people all “doing what they think is best for her” and “she’ll thank them one day”. Raise your hand if you are/were a teenager and ever heard THAT phrase? I think we can all relate Clariel. Fortunately, none of us live in a world of magic and the odds of us turning into villains is pretty low. We don’t quite have her resources. Still, it’s nice to sit beside her and be a bit on her side about the whole thing. After all, she’s not asking for anything unreasonable. I really enjoyed that.
If you haven’t read the Old Kingdom books, you can jump right into Clariel and not spoil a thing. It’s got an interesting magic system, fabulous world building, all sorts of delicious morally ambiguous characters, and a protagonist that is like Merida and Elphaba had a child. It’s fantastic high fantasy and I’m thirsting for even more or Clariel’s story now, and I know I can’t have it. *sigh*