Author: Garth Nix

Series: Abhorsen #4

Subgenre: High Fantasy, Young Adult

Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series looms large in my memory, particularly books two and three. As a teenager, I found them deeply engrossing, and to this day I sometimes wish the library where I work would be just a little more like the library of the Clayr (only a little, but come on, sword wielding librarians? Awesome). So when I heard that Nix was finally getting around to another full-scale installment in the series I was excited, and Clariel was a book I wanted to get to before too much time had passed.

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.

The Speculative Post's Review




Writing Mechanics


While Clariel ultimately garnered a 4 star rating from me (by the skin of its teeth), it was mostly based on the fact that Nix is a strong writer in terms of flow, dialogue, foreshadowing, and so forth. When Clariel is held up against Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen... well, I don’t think it really compares at all. Clariel is a far more basic tale that lacks so much of the creativity and freshness of the previous books. That’s not because Clariel is covering old, much covered ground, but because the book is rushed, overly simplistic, with characters that feel more like cyphers than real people most of the time.

For those of you who haven’t done some research into this title on your own, Clariel isn’t strictly speaking book four in the series, it’s actually a prequel set hundreds of years before Sabriel, and is the first chapter in an origin story about a secondary villain in Lirael and Abhorsen named Chlor of the Mask. Where Sabriel features a kingdom that’s been ravished by political upheaval, and plagued by the walking dead, Clariel features a kingdom that’s seen generations of peace and prosperity. The cost of that peace and prosperity has been forgotten, as well as many of the reasons behind building the Charter.

This should leave us with a glittering book. Nix has taken us into the capital city, a place that’s either been mostly abandoned or left out of the action in previous books. Here it’s a place brimming with life and bustling with intrigue. Yet, Nix skips over so many opportunities to explore and expand this world. The result is the feeling that he’s glossed over nearly everything in Belisaere in the interest of getting to the last quarter of the book… except that now the reader has to be introduced to a new setting, have a crash course in Abhorsen-style magic, and finish tying up the plot in less than 100 pages. Oh, and those pages are the typical young adult wide margins, 1.5 line spacing, with larger print font. So it’s really maybe 50-75 pages of an adult book. Not a lot of space to take the brunt of an entire novel. What saves Nix from an utter disaster is that this is book four: he’s assuming most readers don’t need a crash course in Charter magic or the Abhorsen’s special role in the Charter because we’ll have been drilled in it over the course of the previous books. But if you haven’t read at least Sabriel, you’re going to be in trouble trying to read Clariel as a stand-alone novel.

Of course, when you don’t take the time to really establish your setting, your characters are going to suffer, and this, I think, is the true downfall of the book. You can see that reflected in the breakdown of the overall rating. Nix spends so little time with any character but Clariel that we don’t get to know any of them. Clariel herself is so dedicated to divorcing herself of the situation that she’s in that we get to know her in negatives rather than positives. As in, Clariel doesn’t like this, doesn’t like that, isn’t in a situation where she feels she can use her strengths to advantage, and doesn’t commit to her situation until she’s angry enough to seek revenge against the villain. This does not make it easy to sympathise with her, relate to her, or otherwise enjoy having her for our point-of-view character for nearly 400 pages. In fact, I found her extremely frustrating. Now, knowing that she eventually becomes a villain may make Nix’s approach seem understandable… but the point of the book is not Clariel choosing to be evil for the sake of being evil, but making ill informed choices with unintended consequences. That could have been done with a more enjoyable protagonist, and more over with fleshed out secondary characters.

Overall, Clariel is certainly readable. The are saving graces, but I ultimately found it disappointing when compared to what I expected based on the previous novels.

Gayle's Top 5 of 2014

by: Gayle Cottrill

ed. by: Janea A. Schimmel & Marnie Peterson

I’m really bad at keeping up with new books, TV shows, and movies. I’m generally several seasons and sequels behind, so working with SP is a great way to keep somewhat caught up with the new speculative fiction media, but also a hindrance in my ability to keep up because I keep discovering more and more things to add to my “must read” or “must watch” lists. So, when it came time to create my Top 5 list this year, I chose to highlight some of the wonderful articles and reviews we’ve done here at the Speculative Post, because, as usual, my personal favourites are old news.

1. Marnie’s review of Peter Pan

Favorite Movie
Marnie and I have gushed over P.J. Hogan’s 2003 Peter Pan several times as it is also one of my favourite movies of all time. This review of the film captures everything magical about it, and if you aren’t convinced to watch this movie (if you haven’t already) after reading Marnie’s review, then you’re crazy. I won’t waste too much time rattling off all that I loved about the movie, like the colours, the music, Hook, the Lost Boys, the fairies, the mermaids, etc. While reading Marnie’s comments, I sat there nodding and agreeing with everything, a little more fervently with each sentence. Marnie’s excitement is contagious, so if you missed the review, please read it, and then proceed to watch the movie if you haven’t already.

Leading up to the season four premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, we published several articles by SP staff and guest writers that delved into the characters and world of Westeros. My favourite of them all, and definitely one of my top favourite posts of 2014 was Madison’s analysis of the Lannister family and how awesome they actually are. A huge fan of the books and show myself, everything she had to say was spot on and highlighted one of my favourite things about the series: there isn’t any one “villain,” and even the worst characters can be sympathized with. They are complex characters motivated by what they think is right for themselves and their families. Granted, some actions are more honorable than others, but even the most vile characters have motivations you can understand and relate to. Cersei Lannister, whom you can read an in-depth profile of here is probably one of the best examples. This post resonated with me because besides little Arya Stark, Tyrion, and (definitely) Jaime Lannister are my favourite characters, and Madison articulates well how and why such a thing could be. This piece about the Lannisters explains exactly why they and George R.R. Martin’s work is so great.

3. Alexis’ review of The Lego Movie

Favorite Film Review

When The Lego Movie came out, my friends who saw it said it was way better than they thought it would be. At first I couldn’t believe they went to the theatre to see it, but then this review came up and I was convinced it was a must-see. My favourite reviews are the ones where the reviewer has been touched by the work, or at least affected by it in a deeply positive way, and this one had that feel to it. It stood out to me, and while I haven’t seen The Lego Movie yet, it definitely hasn’t moved too far down my list as the year’s gone on, especially because of this awesome review.

4. Janea’s “10 Must Read Young Adult Books”

Favorite Book List

YA novels are arguably the most popular books on the market what with The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner running the show. Teens and adults alike are reading these stories. Some of my favourite books of all time are the ones I read as a young adult and I am not ashamed (usually) to cite those that have stuck with me. Janea’s list of YA Must Reads highlights quite a few good ones that I also remember vividly, like Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, and ones that I have not read, but definitely believe I should. This piece struck a cord because YA books shouldn’t be discounted simply because they’re written for younger audiences. There are a lot of good ones out there, some older and many new that have plenty of complex content to keep even the most mature adult entertained. This is a good list to get you started on some great YA if you're new to the genre or a veteran.

5. Dan’s article “Novel and Interesting Magic Systems: Part 2”

Favorite SP Post Not by Me

Fantasy was my first real love when I began reading fiction (amidst several nonfiction stages I had as a child), and the variety of magical worlds and magic systems I think are what pulled me in to the genre. Dan took a look at ten different magic systems in two parts. The second part is linked above, and you can read the first part here. Both parts are a great piece together, but I chose to focus on the second one because they include some systems I particularly like, and I was happy they were discussed. I like magic with consequence and a price to pay to use it. What that price is of course can vary, but I find it kind of absurd in stories when wizards can keep fighting and fighting with spells and they hardly tire. I found the spellwrighting of Blake Charlton’s stories and the allomancy/feruchemy of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn the most interesting, but there were plenty of other magic systems that Dan touched on that made me curious to explore more worlds and systems I'd not heard of before.

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