A very fitting addition to the lore of the Old Kingdom, providing fans with additional history, new characters, and even a taste of Free Magic.
As a fan of the series since Sabriel, I ordered this book without hesitation and devoured it within two days. Like the other books, it's all too easy to become absorbed in this world, and difficult to put down. Nix continues to enchant with his characters, locations and plots, including in large part the society and culture of Belisaere from 600 years past. It's fair to say that the story starts off a bit slow, and by the time things get really exciting, you'll be dreading the fact that the remaining pages are dwindling too quickly. I desperately hope that Nix is interested in writing a sequel to Clariel. I thoroughly enjoyed her story, and we leave her only at the very beginning of it. How excited I would be if this turned out to be the first installment in a new trilogy!
While I was not able to relate to Clariel quite as much as I did Lirael, the two are similar in many ways. Their personalities, interests and talents run counter to those around them, and they often feel trapped in a world that doesn't understand them. Clariel has been criticized in other reviews for being petulant and selfish, and for her obsessive needs to achieve her one goal: to escape the city and live in the forest. Indeed, a significant proportion of Clariel's statements and thoughts in the book end with something to the effect of "and then I can escape and go live in the forest". The more confident she is that this will happen, the more determined the plot becomes to thwart her ambitions. And even though she's a bit obsessive, I did find it easy to relate with her here. If I lived in such a society, surrounded by those who constantly judge and manipulate me, I'd be plotting my escape just the same. Wouldn't you?
Clariel also offers a fascinating look at the history of the Old Kingdom, with surprising differences from the more "modern" version that we've come to know and love. We find a society almost decaying from its complacency and disinterest in some of the traditions that have helped it to prosper in the past. Charter Magic has become almost unfashionable, Abhorsens are shirking their duties in pursuit of leisure, and too few seem to notice the dark threats that loom on the horizon, ready to take advantage of the spiritual slumber of the Old Kingdom's denizens. I love the rollercoaster ride of good and evil that Nix paints in his history of the Old Kingdom, and I thirst for more of this riveting history.
By far my favorite aspect of this book is that we finally get a proper taste of the metallic tang of Free Magic. And it's quite delicious. Here we see another side to Free Magic, learn a bit more about how it works, and about some of the creatures that channel it. Absolutely fascinating, and again I hope to read a sequel some day that explores this a further. I won't say any more here so as not to spoil things.
I recommend this book without reservation to fans of the series, and also to newcomers who are interested in fantasy. And I look eagerly forward to the next installment in the Old Kingdom series, whenever that may be.