Clariel by Garth Nix Book Review

Clariel by Garth Nix
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: October 14, 2014

The only thing that Clariel wants to do with her life is become a hunter for the Border guards, which is why she is so abysmally unhappy when her parents move her to the capital. She feels trapped in this world of cliques and Guilds and politics. The streets and alleys feel claustrophobic. Plots and plans are constantly being made and Clariel is shocked to find out that some involve her. When a Charter Mage promises to help her the leave the capital in exchange for capturing a Free Magic creature, Clariel reluctantly agrees. Free Magic is a terrible thing though and for someone like Clariel, it is easily corruptable.

For those not familiar with the original Abhorsen trilogy, this is a world in which necromancers can be both good and bad. The good ones, called Abhorsen's, use bells to put the dead and monsters back to sleep. They use a magic called Charter magic which binds Free Magic into things that are useful and won't corrupt the soul. Free Magic is bad, and the creatures that can come from it are all kinds of terrible. In the original trilogy the kingdom has fallen apart and a girl named Sabriel is having to learn about being Abhorsen and another girl Lirael, learns how to be a Clayr, which is someone who uses Charter magic to see the past and the future.

In this prequel to the Abhorsen trilogy, I was excited to finally see the Old Kingdom up and running, functioning in a way that it didn't in the trilogy. Sadly, I didn't get this. Although things are technically functioning there is a King who refuses to rule, Guilds run everything, the rich refuse to use Charter magic, and the Abhorsens are more concerned with hunting than magic. Free magic creatures are still running amok.

For me, this book was most difficult to read because I truly disliked the main character of Clariel. Clariel is single-minded to the point of stupidity. Her desire to work in the Borderlands has pushed everything out. She has not learned how to use magic beyond what she needs to know for hunting. History, politics, manners, decorum, and everything else is completely disregarded. This meant that as she traveled throughout this world, we as readers only knew as much as she did, which it turns out, was nothing. Since she never actually cared to learn either, we as a reader, weren't given much more than glimpses into the various elements that were controlling Clariel's life. And she is so utterly clueless that is no surprise that when she is confronted with Free Magic, she not only doesn't know how to handle it, but succumbs to its allure. Even worse than all of this is how utterly emotionless this character. Perhaps she is supposed to be hard, but considering the kind of life she has led, it seems strange and unlikely. She has the emotional range of a wet dishrag.

I found the best part of the book to be when Clariel goes to the Abhorsen house, because I was at least familiar with this part of the story and understand what this place was and what it was like.

This prequel just didn't work for me and frankly, I really wish the story had been from the viewpoint of  Bel. Bel is a young man who lives in the castle as a self-appointed Abhorsen-in-training. He understands the politics, knows his way around the castle, has had heated moments with the actual Abhorsen, studies magic, and is so much of the book that you could have written the entire book from his viewpoint, with Clariel in it, and have had a much better story. There was a moment with Bel towards the end, the best moment of the book in my opinion, that gave me chills. There was nothing like that with Clariel. If only that book existed.