Clariel by Garth Nix

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Clariel is the most recently published book in the Old Kingdom series and takes place many years earlier than the first book, Sabriel. In comparison to the previous protagonists, Clariel is a relatively normal character. She is from a noble family, the daughter of ambitious artists who work as goldsmiths. Clariel lives at home with them, although they have recently moved to the city of Belisaere (which Clariel hates). She feels totally out of place in the city and longs to go out and live in the Great Forest on her own. She is less likeable in some ways than Sabriel or Lirael, and often flies into a bit of a rage.

I didn’t find Clariel to be a particularly engaging character and as a whole the book wasn’t as awesome as I had hoped, given how much I enjoyed the first three texts. I feel like Nix was trying to explore a different angle of the world he built for the Old Kingdom series, particularly the elements of free magic and more flawed characters; but it didn’t build into a compelling story.

Clariel is naturally drawn to free magic, and the tools of the Abhorsen but all she is really interested in is being a hunter in the Great Forest. While she tries to juggle all of the demands on her with what she wants for herself, she ends up in a lot of dangerous situations. She is completely focused on her own goals and ambitions, and only gets involved with the wider politics and dangers when they might assist her in fulfilling these. She also has qualities of a beserk, which is apparently a royal trait which comes out once in a while. It explains her anger issues, and quite frankly makes me wonder what inspired Nix to write it into her character! One of my complaints about Sabriel was that she was too bland as a good character, with no flaws, and with Clariel I have a similar but opposite issue. She is bland as a flawed character instead.

I really love the cover art of this novel. It features a very cool illustration in which a dragon is featured. I was really excited and intrigued by this, because in the other books dragons aren’t a big feature and they don’t have any particular evidence of existing. In the end, the dragon’s appearance was a real flop for me. It was an original idea, maybe even clever, but it didn’t sit well with me. If there’s going to be a dragon I want it to be a Smaug or a Toothless; something to be tamed or defeated. Who knew I was so fussy about dragons?

The text is also giving a backstory for one of the future characters, and the revelation of this at the end of the book was kind of a surprise. In retrospect it made sense, but it also felt too forced. Maybe more of her story would help round out the edges and connect the dots between what that character is like in this text, and who they are in the future? I’m not entirely sure.

Overall, I did enjoy this as a read. The writing has a different feel to it and is perhaps more polished than earlier work, there are issues with the plot and characterisation which were disappointing. Clariel is a nice addition to the other stories, but struggles to live up to the level of Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen. My rating is a 2/5

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