Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 19, 2014
I am, as the title says, entirely unimpressed. I waited for this book for years and I was eager to return to the Old Kingdom. It's always been such a refreshing place to visit. Garth Nix has always been so talented in creating female characters that have fortitude, strength and yet are so real and someone I can imagine as my friend. I've been a huge fan for more than 15 years. I was ready, oh-so-ready, to read a book that was just 'right.' I didn't know where it was going to take me, I was just sure it was going to take me to the right place, at the right time.

Well, I don't know what went wrong here but I think it might just have been 'everything.' Characters, plot, writing, editing and even the setting just didn't work.

Clariel is whiny, rude, capricious, callous, short-sighted, lacking in depth and dimension. I couldn't identify with her. She's the kind of person I wouldn't actively choose to talk to had I met her in real life. I know that sometimes book characters are supposed to bother the reader as a literary effect, but this went far beyond that. She's also described as slim, with a boyish frame, or sometimes even described as having a boy's body which is one of my pet peeves in YA books with female main characters. Between her attitude, portrayal and body-descriptions, Clariel comes across as another supposed female main character that is more like a cranky, spoiled, effeminate young boy in need of an attitude adjustment than a real female character.

The supporting cast is similarly flat and uncompelling. The book strongly features a tough Captain of the Guard, an Eccentric Magician, Ladder-Climbing parents and a boring but serviceable 'friend.' And Mogget, who is the ensemble darkhorse in every Old Kingdom book is just as flat and uninspired as these stereotyped filler characters. If you had told me it was Kerrigor, I might have believed you. But he didn't feel at all like the Mogget I know and appreciate.

I felt like I didn't recognize the setting. Gone was the sensation of visiting a familiar haunt or a place I could visualize. I couldn't see the Old Kingdom in my head. I kept feeling like I'd fallen into work by Brandon Sanderson or L.E. Moddessit. There was a genericness to this Old Kingdom that hadn't existed in previous books.

As for the plot -- if you were expecting Garth Nix to deliver a new twist on the descent into darkness... this book was not it. It's a rehash of Nolan's Batman's backstory, with just a dash of tortured hero that felt really tacked-on. The rest of the plot seemed to have been pulled wholesale from various low-quality 'comedy of formal manners' fantasies that were so popular in the eighties and early nineties. A good half of the book felt like meandering plot-fill. Part of me feels like this could have been a fantastic short-story like "Across the Wall" but it bloated into a book unchecked.

I actually appreciated the message of "hey, cities aren't all they are cracked up to be" but the underlying themes were handled with ham-handedness and the whole book came across as a really over-wrought effort to connect with the 'youth of today.' And it came across as patronizing when looked at that way.

Frankly, I should probably give this one star. Year ago I would have, but it is better than what is passing as best-selling literature these days, despite a number of editing errors that are honestly shocking in a book put out by this caliber of author and this caliber of press. It's better than some of the best-selling even if it is some of the worst writing I've seen out of Nix. So two stars it is.

As a fan, I'd like to say that Sabriel was the first Fantasy book I ever read. It was the beginning of a wonderful lover affair. And I feel like I've just lost something that carried me along when nothing else did. I feel like I've lost an old friend.
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