by The Wanderer
Author: Garth Nix
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Dark Fantasy
Series: Abhorsen Book Two
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(Spoilers for Sabriel are below).
Lirael takes the Abhorsen Trilogy in a newer direction with a whole new set of characters and a much longer page count. Initially taking place some fourteen years after Sabriel and Touchstone defeated Kerrigor, this book focuses on two new narrators: a young Clayer named Lirael who has yet to gain the sight, and Prince Sameth, Sabriel’s son and the Abhorsen in waiting. With the continued development of an excellent magic system, one of the greatest libraries in worldbuilding, and a great cliff hanger of an ending, Lirael proves to be every bit as imaginative and emotionally powerful as its predecessor.
Lirael is an orphan child living with the Clayr. Her father’s identity is a mystery, her mother died when she was young. In order to become fully initiated within Clayr society one must have the Sight, and it’s been two years since Lirael should have received hers. Lirael begins working in the library eventually leading her to discover her own destiny.
Prince Sameth, who goes by Sam, is being preparing to be the Abhorsen by his mother Sabriel. When his Cricket team on their return trip home gets attacked by the dead, some quick thinking and an impromptu journey into Death by Sam saves most of them, but leaves him mentally scarred and unwilling to fulfill the role everyone expects him to.
Sabriel was a book that looked at coming of age, accepting loss, and finding love. In many ways – with the exception of the death based magic system – it was a typical Y.A. novel. In Lirael Nix poses some major adult questions and tackles some pretty taboo issues for a fiction novel. The fate vs. freewill quote that finishes the book of the dead really sums up the thematic conflict of the entire story:
“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”Lirael spends a lot of the early portions of the book contemplating suicide and devising various ways to end her life. Her isolation from the rest of the Clayr and her inability to gain the Sight cause her no end to her misery. It isn’t until she finds a job working in the Clayr library that she begins to turn her life around.
And oh the Clayr library. A labyrinth of books, secret passages, hidden monsters, etc. etc. this is the king of fictional libraries. A number of years pass in this story as Lariel discovers books that teach her new forms of magic. She gets herself into all sorts of haunted mischief. It’s these adventures that mix exploration with serious emotional issues that make reading the Lirael portions of the story the best part of reading this book.
Sam is a decent narrator, but he whine’s quite a bit and it can get pretty tiring. I find I’m more interested in the people around him, particularly his mother and father whom narrated the last book, and his bossy sister Elimere, who is the Queen in Waiting. He does get thrust into some morally complex decisions though, unfortunately Nix gives him a “get out of jail free card.” Sam’s part in the story doesn’t begin until your more than 200 pages in, and proportionately (and thankfully) Lirael does most of the narrating.
The Lirael portions of the story showcase Lirael as being a much more vulnerable character than Sabriel ever was, and that was something this series really needed. Lirael’s portions of narration are better than Sabriel’s in Sabriel, but Sam’s are not. Until the final chapter I would have picked Sabriel as being the better book, but Lirael ends with such a harsh (and quite frankly honest) life lesson that most fictional stories like to gloss over or simply ignore. Nix tackling said issue (and I’m being vague to avoid spoilers) really puts the rest of the book over for me. It also sets up the final book perfectly.