Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Book Review: Garth Nix - Lirael

Part 1 - Sabriel Review

This book is the second in the Sabriel trilogy and carries the story forward to nineteen years later. The world of the Old Kingdom introduced in Sabriel is explored further as are its various races. The family of the King, the Abhorsen whose job it is to keep the dead from coming back into the world of the living and the Clayr who have the sight and can see snatches of the future.

Lirael is one of the Clayr, an orphan whose mother died in strange circumstances and whose father is unknown. Most of the Clayr develop the sight as they approach puberty, but Lirael finds herself in the humiliating position of having reached the age of sixteen with still no ability as a seer. To placate her, the Clayr give her the position of Third Assistant Librarian in their vast library which is hewn inside a mountain. The first half of the book is mainly about Lirael and her adventures in the library, much of which has been shut off for many ages. We follow her as she secretly explores the library, fighting hidden magical creatures, finding magical objects and creating the “The Disreputable Dog” from a little soapstone dog she finds, to keep her company. In the process, she does not realise how her magic is growing and becoming powerful nor the tumultuous events happening in the country around her. Finally, the Clayr have a powerful collective vision in which Lirael is seen in a strange distant location fighting an immense power (dramatic enough?). Apparently this is enough for them to pack her off on a boat with her dog to find her destiny and save the kingdom.

Her story is contrasted with that of Sameth, son of the King and the Abhorsen, who like his mother is schooled in nearby, non-magical Ancelstierre. We see Sameth grow up in an old-fashioned boys school, playing cricket and being one of the lads (Ancelstierre is very much reminiscent of 1930’s England). As he is introduced, we find him returning from a cricket match, only for his bus to be attacked by a powerful necromancer who has somehow crossed over from the Old Kingdom into Ancelstierre. Sameth barely escapes and is ordered to return home to continue his training as the Abhorsen-in-waiting he has been proclaimed. His encounter with the necromancer though leaves him so frightened that he cannot face the training of an Abhorsen. He runs away from the palace, taking with him the palace’s magical talking white cat (a powerful magical creature trapped in a cats body by an Abhorsen) and getting into all sorts of trouble on the way.

Guess who meets who?

I thoroughly enjoyed Sabriel, partly because although it is written for teenagers, I did not find it childish at all. This encouraged me to pick up Lirael. I found the first part fairly interesting as it built on the myths, legends and history of the first novel and filled in various gaps. Lirael is fairly interesting and I was curious as to what she would find next in the depths of the strange, endless library. After a while though, Liraels anguish at not having the sight, Sameth’s anguish at not wanting to be the Abhorsen and their long, drawn-out travelling through the country started to feel very slightly tedious. In contrast the sniping between the cat and dog is funny and well-written and I liked these two figures almost more than the main characters.

Another thing I wasn’t crazy about was that the story ends mid-flow and continues in the third book, rather than being a book that can stand alone like Sabriel. The second and third book of the triology really read more like one book. Overall this was the weakest book of the triology, but the necessary bridge between Sabriel and Abhorsen and still quite readable.

Part 3 - Abhorsen

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