Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
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.
Clariel is sixteen when her family move to Belisaere for her mother’s work. Clariel hates Belisaere before they even arrive – she wants to live in the forest, not in a city, cut off from nature and forced to endure social niceties like the tea drinking ceremony. I had really high hopes for Clariel, based on my love for the series as a teenager, but unfortunately for me, it was a real disappointment. Somehow, it felt like nothing happened, even though when I was talking it over with my other half it became clear that actually, quite a lot HAD happened. But the book generally felt very slow paced, and it took me over a month to get through the 400 pages – I felt like I spent the whole book waiting for it to pick up, and until the last 25%, I never really had a burning desire to keep reading, or to squeeze in ‘one more chapter’ before bed.
Where to even start with Clariel? There were things I loved about her – her connection with nature, the fact that she’s a berserker, the fact that she had sex and, quite frankly, did not find it a big deal. She’s asexual, which had the potential to be interesting but which I didn’t find particularly relevant – it’s mentioned but as we’re supposed to be following Clariel’s attempts to end up alone anyways, and with no romance involved in the story, it almost felt like it had been added just for the sake of it. Her growth from the beginning of the book to where she ends up felt unfinished to me, which is disappointing as it’s kind of the whole point of the book.
I really liked Bel, and I liked seeing Mogget, but I wasn’t particularly fussed by any of the other characters. There are unrequited feelings everywhere, characters mentioned frequently who never appear, and characters who appear frequently but seem to achieve nothing, and a whole bunch of irresponsible adults.
When the next book comes out, I’d like to read the whole series in one go, and see if Clariel lives up to it’s predecessors better in that context, but on it’s own, I found this disappointing. I still love Nix’s world, it’s interesting reading about Belisaere, and I really liked some of the characters, but I felt largely ambivalent about reading on for far too much of this book. Having said that, the last quarter or so of the book was gripping, so if I’d read this at a time when I wasn’t so busy with uni and could get through it in a few days, as opposed to reading it in bits and pieces around essay work, I suspect the slow pacing would have been a lot less frustrating.
Buy it? This is one I’d borrow personally.
In a nutshell: Interesting world building, some good characters, but ultimately too slow for me to really get into.