Happy Mother’s Day! Not that Clariel is a story about motherhood or anything, but Clariel does have a mother. Who was kind of badass, if she wasn’t so uncompromisingly crazy. I am getting ahead of myself, though…
Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilp. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.
With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her – and it is herself she must question most of all.
I’ve pretty much gushed over the fact that I went to the NYC launch of this book. I’ve pretty much gushed over the Abhorsen series to anyone who would listen to my ramblings about how much I frelling love Charter magic. Heck, I even baked cookies to that effect. When I realized there was a prequel to the Abhorsen series, and it was taking place in Belisaere hundreds of years back, and it’s about one of the VILLAINS in Lirael and Abhorsen, I was just…just.
Clariel expanded the Old Kingdom in a way that Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen combined didn’t do. It built Belisaere up to its former glory, a city bustling with artistry, engineering, and guild dynamics. It provided us with further information on Free Magic and its relation to Charter Magic and the magic of the Abhorsens. Heck, Clariel even showcased an entire village comprised of the Abhorsen line–though whether any of them were truly competent is an entirely different thing. As far as worldbuilding went, Clariel far exceeded my expectations.
Where the book fell flat for me was the story itself. There was so much buildup on the political atmosphere, the lineage and ties between the Abhorsens, the King, and the Clayr, and the mythos around Free Magic creatures and how dangerous they are to the Charter (and humanity). I liked it in some cases, but in the end, much of this background all escalated up to a measly one or two chapters of badassery–in Jaciel’s part–two hundred pages in. Heck, the cover has a damn DRAGON creature, and no dragon shows up until the LAST FIFTY PAGES OF THE BOOK.
As for Clariel herself…
I admit that I had problems with Clariel in the beginning. She’s single-minded, temperamental, selfish, disinterested, and oftentimes exhibiting most of the characteristics of a Debbie Downer. Normally this is where I would be turned off to a character, especially when Clariel herself IS the main character. But I kind of understood where Clariel is coming from, why her mind often moved to a far-off place and why she–like her mother–often couldn’t compromise her idea of “freedom” versus what everyone else expected of her. She is hardly interested in Charter Magic (ugh, PUT ME IN HER SHOES, I WILL LEARN FROM THE BEST PLZ), and she literally gave zero fucks (excuse my language) about making friends or learning about the social games that the city-folk played. The only thing that even seemed worth Clariel’s time was thoughts about escape to the Great Forest to become a Borderer, and we get this thought process pretty often throughout the book.
Okay, so Clariel IS single-minded, temperamental, selfish, disinterested, and a downright Debbie Downer. She is also determined, strong-willed, loyal, and assertive. From the get-go, she had ONE goal, and yes, it is a selfish goal, and yes, it doesn’t help that her inner berserk often tries to override her general attempt to control her temper. She does try where it counts, and even as a typical lone wolf, she’s at least managed to maintain a decent friendship with the singular most awesome character in the book (Belatiel FTW!). I wasn’t such a big fan of Bel’s infatuation with Clariel, but I like the fact that Clariel set the rules down from the get-go (SHE DOESN’T NEED A MAN, EVEN IF IT IS BEL).
Do I like Clariel? In a way, I do.
Do I like her as the heroine of this story? No, because technically she didn’t really do much to help move the plot along.
I think that’s the point, though, because knowing who Clariel becomes, I expected her to start a downward spiral, maybe even make the situation worse (which she kind of did, lol). I was slightly disappointed that we barely see much of the change from Clariel to Chlorr, and as far as Clariel was concerned, her story only got super-interesting AT THE END. I seriously wanted to know what happens after [SPOILER] Bel springs her out of the Palace and puts her on an escape boat [/SPOILER]. But alas.
I did love that Mogget remains consistently Moggety. Easily my favorite creature across the Abhorsen books.
3.5 out of 5 cookies! Definitely yes to the worldbuilding, though admittedly Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen still blow this book out of the water.