“Old Marral the fisherman lived in one of the oddest parts of Belisaere, the ancient capital of the old kingdom. A proud city with high walls to defend against living foes, and rushing aqueducts to keep out the Dead, one tiny corner of the great metropolis lay outside the protection of both wall and water.”
If you know anything about me, at all, then you probably know that I love the shit out of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy, and specifically adore the first book, Sabriel. So, when I found out that Nix was writing another Abhorsen novel taking place hundreds of years before the events of Sabriel, I basically crapped my pants. I wish I was exaggerating 🙁 In brief, this is a world in which the Dead cross over into the world of the living, and the Abhorsen is a sort of anti-necromancer charged with sending the Dead back where they belong as well as combating necromancers of the evil variety and Free Magic entities.
Clariel, daughter of a renowned Goldsmith with Abhorsen blood, is really, really grumpy about her family’s recent move to Belisaere. All she wants is a simple life in the Great Forest, something she reiterates no fewer than seventeen million times. However, her plans to get out of the oppressive city and back to the Forest are delayed when she is called upon by her Charter Magic instructor to help rid the city of a Free Magic creature; a supposedly simple operation that launches a chain of rapidly spiraling out of control events that threaten not just Belisaere, but the entirety Old Kingdom and the integrity of Clariel’s soul.
I’ll start by saying that this book is really sneaky. I know a lot of reviews are lauding Clariel as a sympathetic character, but to be honest I really disliked her for most of the book. She’s incessantly and single-mindedly whiny about wanting to go back to the Great Forest – it actually got to the point where I cringed every time I saw those two words put together. But then, as I kept reading, I got the sneaking suspicion that I was meant to not be terribly fond of her for much of the novel.
As she gets pulled into the drama of useless Abhorsens and absent kings and power-hungry politicians, she gets, if not more likable, at least increasingly compelling. Her single-mindedness and anti-social tendencies all have to do with her magical abilities, of which she is not aware of at the start of the novel. This nature of hers becomes even more interesting as it becomes evident that she is utterly at odds with the way the entire world is constructed.
The reason I’m spelling all this out is to let you know that if her one track mind really annoys the shit out of you, just keep reading. Her anti-hero’s journey is so hella worth it. Because, and I hope I’m not giving too much away here, it’s really fucking fun to ride along with Nix as he introduces his supposed protagonist and then watch as she turns into a really fucking scary yet accidental baddie. This is actually the origin story of one of the big bads of the original Abhorsen trilogy, and oh shit, is it cool.
One of the best things about any Abhorsen novel is the world it exists in, and Nix hits the mark here yet again. There were times when I got a bit antsy with all the intrigue-in-the-castle court life, but worry not, dear readers: even though the Dead are all but absent, there are some really terrifying Free Magic creatures (including MOGGET!!!!! MOGGET!!!! THE BEST CHARACTER OF ALL THE BOOKS, MOGGET !!!), which brings me to a point I’d like to present to you.
It seems to me that, though in the books their natures are totally evil, Free Magic creatures are kind of like magical, monstrous anarchists. They are creatures who refuse to be bound by the confines of Charter Magic, and in that way I find them kind of sympathetic. I mean, not when they’re ripping people’s heads off because that’s what they’re naturally inclined to do. I just think that it’s interesting that Nix has created antagonists who refuse to be governed and are therefore inherently evil (or is it that they are inherently evil, and therefore refuse to be governed?), which is pretty in line with the weird belief that if the government or whatever other artificially imposed moral compass crumbled, people would lose their shit and start eating and disemboweling each other or something. The Free Magic creatures are absolutely evil and terrifying, but their constant yearning for freedom and resistance to the controlling nature of the Charter is troublesome, at least for me, because I can totally dig that sentiment. This side thought in NO WAY detracts from my love of Nix and the incredible fantasy world that he has created. Just a little train of thought that kept tickling my brain as I read.
Overall, if you have read and loved Nix’s other Abhorsen novels, then you’d be an idiot not to read this one. An IDIOT and a MORON. It doesn’t come out til October 14, but you can pre-order it, knuckleheads!
For music I chose Luca Turilli’s “Demonheart,” because even though Clariel isn’t technically a demon, she gets pretty fucking evil.
Where I got it: Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher (HarperCollins) at the American Library Association annual conference.