Top positive review
5.0 out of 5 starsA Fabulous Return to the Old Kingdom
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 22, 2014
Originally published on Goodreads - https://www.goodreads.com/flyicarus
In a return to the Old Kingdom, that place we all know and love (and are a little frightened of), author Garth Nix gives us the origin tale of Clariel, who Abhorsen series readers will later know as the necromancer and Greater Dead Chlorr of the Mask. That future is far away, though, and Nix introduces us to Clariel as she was before she started walking her dark path. Clariel is the daughter of a Goldsmith that was summoned to Belisaere, the capital city of the Old Kingdom, but she goes unwilling. Clariel has a passion for the forest near Estwael, the town she was born and raised in, and she hates that she's being forced by a weak father and a domineering, distant mother to go somewhere she willed not; all her thought is bent on escaping somehow. Little does Clariel know that her new home is a snake pit of machinations, politicking and danger both visceral and magical. As Clariel becomes aware of the danger that is around her, her desire to be free grows, and tragedy and unrest in the Kingdom come before she realizes entirely what is happening. All Clariel knows is that she wants to be free, to be on her own, and whether she gains that freedom through Charter or Free Magic is something inconsequential to her. She understands all too late the price she must pay.
I'm a huge fan of Nix's Old Kingdom series, and I've been waiting for this book for years - sometimes patiently, sometimes not. I actually had to stop myself from staying up all night to read it, because I could easily have devoured the book entirely if I had stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish, but I'm glad I didn't. This was a really good book and a nice addition to the Old Kingdom series - I'm glad that we as readers had an opportunity to see more of the world we love, and also have this prequel with insight into Chlorr of the Mask's origins. When I first started reading I had difficulty actually caring about Clariel - I think this may have been because I know what she turns into. However, around halfway through the book, I went from merely empathizing with Clariel to actively caring about her and feeling sympathetic, even wanting to take care of her. I'm sure many a reader can understand well the feeling of wanting to be free, yearning for some simple dream that is deferred or denied by those around you. I honestly wanted Clariel to be able to go back to Estwael and to the Great Forest, to live among the green and the animals, to have her peace. It was a tragedy, both of outside influence and her own making, that rendered it otherwise.
It was interesting to have Clariel be a berserk, like Touchstone. I liked having that callback to something Nix had written before, and hearing more about others of the blood having that issue as well, and how they learned to cope with it, that there were resources out there for them, was really well done. Being berserk seems, at least to me, rather to be a kind of disability - blinding rage, loss of coherent thought, loss of memory, etc. Readers know of Touchstone being berserk, how he went into the rage after he witnessed his family being murdered at the hands of Kerrigor, and later, when someone attempted to assassinate Sabriel and he wrenched blindly at the throne as if to throw it at the assassin. It seems that Touchstone himself did not have many resources, at least none that were mentioned, but that there is that in the Old Kingdom - the opportunity to learn, to grow, to master yourself and live a normal, if controlled, life is huge to me as a reader. The ease with which queer relationships were mentioned, as well as what I interpret to be asexuality/aromantic tendences, was so so so huge to me - Clariel mentions repeatedly that she doesn't feel attachment to either men or women, and another character, Belatiel, infers that Clariel might like women when she tells him she's not interested, but a conversation with Clariel's aunt reveals that she doesn't desire (for the most part) anything sexual or romantic, she prefers to be alone. This kind of representation is hugely important, and it was so nice to see Nix include it and not in a way that was fetishizing or derogatory.
I found that something that especially got to me where the dynamics between the characters - this is something that Nix does well, and a few areas I'd like to point out are: The relationship between Jaciel, Clariel's mother, and Clariel herself, for one. Clariel thinks that her mother has no feeling for her, that all Jaciel cares about is her work; this perception is altered slightly when Clariel realizes that Jaciel has the same berserk blood in her veins as Clariel herself does, and that Jaciel's work is her escape, her calming influence that keeps the rage in check. But, she still resents her mother, and as the reader, you also grow to resent Jaciel even as you get a hint of understanding as to why she is the way she is. However, when Kilp and his men attack Clariel and her family, you see Jaciel go into the rage at the murder of her husband and the threat to her daughter; she sends Clariel running with a Charter spell, and risks herself in the rage to save her. That was so powerful to me. I also really liked the dynamic between Clariel and Belatiel. Nix hinted at the possibility of Clariel feeling the same way for Belatiel but not realizing until too late, and then giving up on the possibility of something once she's separated from the Charter, scarred, traumatized, and tainted by Free Magic. I like to think about another world, where Clariel might've stayed with Belatiel and found her peace and belonging, learning to live with her berserk rage and also how to temper the Free Magic inside of her. I wanted Clariel to have a happy ending, even though I know, we all know, that isn't possible.
Seeing Clariel start to become drawn to Free Magic was fascinating and horrifying - as a reader you can understand why Clariel wants that power, that freedom, but we know what it will bring her, what price must be paid. Horrifying, because we know what she becomes and, at least for myself, I wanted to help her turn from that path. Mogget as always was a delight, but I must say it was definitely a departure from the Mogget we know in the original trilogy. Mogget here was unrepentant and manipulative, if downright a liar, and it was directly his influence that led to Clariel falling as far as she did, and as fast. Though even Clariel herself says that she would have more than likely have been drawn to Free Magic/necromancy anyway, but there it is. Learning the origins of the mask and Chlorr's outfit was interesting as well, as where she would get her first set of bells. Charter skins! The insight into the history of the Abhorsens - Hillfair was entirely unexpected, as was the bridge over the stepping stones, but I really enjoyed the history of a people, a place, that I hadn't known before.
Overall I was really pleased with this book and I can't wait for the continuation of the Abhorsen series with the book coming about Nick Sayre and Lirael.