Clariel is a prequel to Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series. It chronicles events that happened about six hundred years before Sabirel. Clariel has one dream, one goal–to live in the Great Forest that is her home and be a Borderer (basically Old Kingdom park rangers). But no one takes her goal seriously. Her parents have relocated to the city of Belisaere to schmooze with highfalutin folks (Clariel, is, after all, a close cousin of the King and the granddaughter of the Abhorsen). Her mother, Jaciel, mostly ignores her child and better half to make pretty gold things. While Clariel’s father takes care of the administrative/business duties. Neither one of them seem to care about what Clariel wants. Clariel attempts to do what she can, both to honor her parents, but also to achieve her dream of being free in the Great Forest. Disasters happen, both as a result of her obedience and her defiance. One thing is for sure, after moving away from her beloved forest, Clariel will never be the same. One of my favorite quotes (which also makes an appearance in the other books in the series): “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”
Other reviews have called Clariel a failed tragedy, but I disagree. I don’t see this novel as a failure at all. Clariel is an extremely nuanced, complicated protagonist. I love that about her. I love that she is not a straightforward heroine. Don’t get me wrong, I love rooting for the straightforward heroine. If she’s interesting and well-written. Clariel is both. But from the very beginning the reader can see how confusing it is to be in her own mind. Free Magic or Charter Magic? Good or Evil? Kind or Cruel? Clariel is both…all of these things. She’s extremely multidimensional for a character who has one simple desire, one simple passion. I don’t think the cover artist could have chosen a better tagline: “A passion thwarted will often go astray.” One of the characters also says this towards the end of the novel, after Clariel has made some life-altering decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be best friends with Clariel the way I did with Sabriel. I didn’t see a kindred soul in Clariel the way I did in Lirael. Clariel is sometimes tough to like. But to me the story and the characterization didn’t disappoint. I recommend this book and the entire Abhorsen series to anyone who loves fantasy, particularly fantasy that sometimes reads more like historical fiction or realism.