HE WROTE A
SEQUEL PREQUEL! I found out yesterday so I bought the book and read it immediately and OH. MY. It was so worth it you have no idea.
It did not, initially, feel worth it. The earlier installments of the Old Kindom series are shrouded in the heavy mists of nostalgia and joy, so I honestly couldn’t tell you if this is a flaw they share, but the writing in the start of Clariel is a bit clunky and rather childish. Lots of over-simple sentences, repetition, overuse of names and just too much “she did this and then she did this and then she did this”. But then… then… there is a moment of euphoria. There is a sudden second of realisation, of understanding where the book fits into the rest of the canon and it is GLORIOUS. I will admit right now, I may have flapped. I may have squeaked. Because I didn’t realise, right up until I realised, and then I couldn’t believe I hadn’t realised.
I’m trying to talk around it, and it’s really hard, because I don’t want to make it obvious to anyone who hasn’t read it, and my tentative Facebook pesterings suggest that my friends have not, on the whole, read it (yet).
To put on my critic mask for a moment, it has a lot in common with the other books, in ways it possibly shouldn’t. My main concern is that Clariel, especially early on, is very Lirael. Nix doesn’t write very many female characters (and don’t get me wrong, they tend to be ace), and he hasn’t done a new one here. In a similar way, the main male character is a bit… wet. Very much like Sameth, in fact. Touchstone was wet too (especially compared to Sabriel) but yeah, Sameth. Nicholas? Also wet.
Despite being male, Nix writes very strong, well-balanced women, and slightly meek, indecisive, wet men who get trampled over a bit by their more successful ladies (who often aren’t very interested in men except for some occasional sex). See also: the Clayr are mostly women and are a bit disdainful of men in general (again, except for the occasional sexytiem). There are a lot of badass lady guards/Clayr glacier stabby women/librarians* going on in this universe. There are a few slightly badass male guards lying about, but as the humanfolk go, really? It’s all in the women. That is just the humanfolk though. As a friend pointed out to me, when you go into the non-humanfolk, there is some awesome going on. And by awesome, I mean MOGGET. And yes, he does appear in Clariel (so all is well and we can read the book in happiness and peace).
The only really competent man I can think of is Terciel (Sabriel’s dad). And he’s minor, and backgroundy, and is still competent in a quiet, wistful, thoughtful way, not the full on “look at me Abhorsening around the place and fixing several hundred years of screw up” that his daughter does. Nix just makes his women shine (in a slightly bossy way) and his men… step back. They don’t faint weakly and meekly, but nor do they stand forward like their sisters, mothers, lovers, aunts and nieces. Not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. Because I’m not against good, strong women. That would be stupid. But there probably ought to be a bit of variety somewhere in there. Maybe a couple of meek women, or just ones who weren’t very fighty badass (fighty does include magic and necromancy here), and maybe one man who was, for the sake of contrast. I suppose Hedge could count, but he’s not… really human.
I’m wandering off a little here. Clariel is more tightly focussed on the main character than Lirael or Abhorsen were, and much more like Sabriel in a lot of ways. Like Sabriel, Terciel is a bit at sea about an awful lot of the world around here, immersed in something new and unfamiliar somewhat against her will. It’s much more a standalone book, keen on exploring the details of the world and the mysteries it can hold, rather than ramping up the drama stakes and saving the universe from evil and cliff-hangers. Like Sabriel, again, the plot is closely bound with one girl’s small aim in a world full of bigger troubles, never wanting to get sucked into all the issues around her but finding herself unable to say no. It’s not a carbon copy, but there’s a lot of parallels you can draw between the two, and that’s where I think the joy actually lies. It creates the meh at the beginning (in the form of “yes yes we’ve seen this all before, what’s new?”) only to flip it all over later in the book and slap you in the face. In a good way, if that’s possible. I strongly suspect Nix knew what he was doing when he made the two so similar, and wanted to create precisely that effect. Whether the same is true for the character creation? Not so sure.
In any case, if you loved the Old Kingdom books, I cannot see a way not to love Clariel. It’s not the best, but it slots in so neatly to *mumble mumble clamps hand over mouth to prevent spoilers* that you can’t help but enjoy it. It’s exhilarating, and fantastic and thoroughly joyful, even when it’s sad (again, like Sabriel**). Read it. Read it now.
*That was my favourite bit of Lirael. The librarians are superheroes who fight monsters. And catalogue books.
**My favourite bit of Sabriel is actually when Sabriel thinks she’s going to die, and she reads the inscription on her sword (the Clayr saw me, the Wallmakers made me, the King quenched me, the Abhorsen wields me, so that no Dead shall walk in life, for this is not their path) again in a distressingly melodramatic way. It makes me so happy inside, and I don’t even know why.