Tag Archives: Garth Nix

Book Review Saturday – ‘Clariel’

Image: forbiddenplanet.com

Image: forbiddenplanet.com

I love Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom books (Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen). I read them all back to back in one giant gulp, which means I didn’t read them as they were published, but it’s certainly at least ten years since I immersed myself in the world of Charter magic and Free magic, and the thrilling exploits of the necromancers, who control the passages between Death and Life through the use of bells. Clariel is a prequel, set some six hundred years before the events of Sabriel, though it does feature two characters who reappear in the trilogy, and it is in some ways an attempt to flesh out the world of the Old Kingdom which, in the trilogy, was past its best, a crumbling ruin of its former self. In Clariel, the Kingdom is young and vibrant, and the action takes place there in its entirety. The trilogy cleverly made use of the disparity between the two ‘realms’ – the Old Kingdom, passing into history, and Ancelstierre, a country ruled by reason and science – and made a feature out of the Wall separating one from the other. In a lot of ways, this made for a better read; the Old Kingdom felt like a threat, like a dark shadow which loomed to the north of Ancelstierre like a nightmare waiting to pounce. In Clariel, the setting is simpler and the politics, governance, and dramatic tension are all altered as a result.

Clariel introduces us to the title character, Clariel herself, who is seventeen (even though the back of the book says she’s sixteen, which annoyed me no end), and who has come to live with her parents in the city of Belisaire, the capital of the Kingdom. She has excellent connections, as she is related both to the Abhorsen (the master necromancer whose job it is to patrol the border between Death and Life, keeping everything where it’s supposed to be) and the King. Her mother is a preternaturally gifted goldsmith, the toast of the city and her fellow artisans, and her father is a rather boring, grey figure, a man who largely spends his time wringing his hands and worrying about things instead of actually taking action, in any sense of the word. Clariel herself feels born to be a Borderer, a person who works in the forests, much like a ranger; she is drawn to the solitary, outdoor life and finds living in Belisaire, among crowds and noise and bustle, an intolerable strain. But, of course, she is too young to control her own destiny, and her parents have other plans for her – plans which include becoming a ‘lady’, making a good marriage, joining a Guild in the city and carving out a career for herself.

However, Clariel knows she has found the career she wants, and the lifestyle she craves. Her parents won’t hear of her living alone, even though she has proved herself more than capable of surviving – even thriving – in the isolation of the forest. Their clash of wills causes the primary narrative tension in the book, and though it might sound like a facile thing, I could really feel Clariel’s frustration and her building rage, and I could empathise clearly with her desires to find her own life, mark out her own space and her own way. There was a lot about her I admired: for one, she is asexual, which is something YA books do not deal with often enough. She has no desire to be romantic with anyone, of any gender, and the idea of marriage seems absurd to her. She is an entirely self-contained individual with a strong mind and solid convictions, and it was painful to watch her being denied her autonomy and freedom, time and again. But then, when she is asked to help in the capture of a powerful Free Magic creature which is running rampage in a fishing village not far from the city, things start to get interesting – and, as well as that, someone is attempting to unseat the King, a feeble-minded man obsessed with his missing granddaughter, and Clariel finds herself caught up in the midst of it.

For all the good things about this book (and bearing carefully in mind how much I was yearning to read it) I can’t say I enjoyed it terribly much. It was too long, and a lot of it seemed repetitive (the conflict between Clariel and her parents, in particular, which I felt was a shame, as the more often it was belaboured the less effective it grew), and I didn’t warm to Clariel as a character. Certainly, I admired and understood her, and I felt her arc was painfully inevitable and well executed, and it was refreshing to read about a heroine who makes mistakes she can’t undo, and who realises too late that she has taken the wrong path – but I didn’t love her. I think, in many ways, this was the point, but I found it hard to really enjoy her story because of it. On the other hand, there’s the delicious twist of who Clariel actually is – or, I suppose, who she becomes – and if you’ve read the Old Kingdom trilogy, this adds a little jolt of satisfaction to the book’s conclusion. I also enjoyed the fact that Mogget, one of my favourite characters from the trilogy, makes an appearance here, too – and he’s up to his usual tricks! I can’t say that Clariel has surpassed the Old Kingdom trilogy in my affections, but it’s certainly a book that a Nix fan should read, and if you’re interested in the history of the Old Kingdom, it’s the place to go. I wish it had been shorter and that a little more had happened in it, but hey. It was great to get back to the Old Kingdom, and it made me want to re-read the other books – so, it’s all good.

Recommended Books (Vol. 1)

The other day on Twitter, a very kind lady named Steph asked me if I’d ever blogged a list of books I’d recommend. I thought about it, and realised that I hadn’t, really, ever written a post like that. I do random book reviews, and I’ve talked a bit about why I buy certain books and not others (which, no doubt, you’re aware of if you’ve been hanging out here for a while), but I’ve never put together an actual list of books I would recommend to others.

It’s been on my mind for a few days now, and I think I’ll give it a go.

It’s a bit scary, though, in some ways. It’s sort of like opening the door to your mind and showing people around, hoping they won’t turn their nose up at your choice of curtains or finger your upholstery in a derisory way, going ‘Really? This fabric? Couldn’t she afford anything better?’

'Well, I never! How *could* she choose that colour for the walls? Has she *no* decorum? You wouldn't see that at one of my candlelight suppers!' Image: politicsworldwide.com

‘Well, I never! How *could* she choose that colour for the walls? Has she *no* decorum? You wouldn’t see that at one of my candlelight suppers!’
Image: politicsworldwide.com


So, the list of books below are some of those which I found world-enhancing, life-changing, utterly wonderful in every way, and which I’d recommend everyone reads as soon as possible. Here goes. Be gentle.

The Silver SwordIan Seraillier. I first read this book in first class at primary school (so, I was about seven or eight); we were going through a World War II phase, wherein we read this book, ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank, and another book I adore called I Am David by Anne Holm.  Everyone in the world has heard of Anne Frank, but not everyone has heard of the others. So, that’s why these ones are recommended.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engle. I brought this book on a family holiday when I was about ten, and I lost it. I almost lost my reason, too. The strop was almighty and unmerciful, and nobody escaped my wrath. I actually found it again years later, after I’d already bought myself two replacement copies, but I didn’t apologise to my family for the temper tantrum. So it goes.

Speaking of l’Engle, though – as much as I adore A Wrinkle in Time, I’m not completely sold on the other books in the series of which this book is the first volume. As they go on, they get a bit less interesting and a bit more ‘preachy’. But Wrinkle is definitely worth reading.

I’ve already wittered on about The Little Prince and Elidor before, so I won’t do it again.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, and The Owl Service, all by Alan Garner, are so amazing that I don’t have a word to describe them. Just read them, as soon as possible, and then read everything Alan Garner has ever written, including Boneland, Strandloper, Thursbitch, The Stone Book Quartet, The Voice that Thundersand anything else I may have forgotten.

I need to go and have a lie-down now, after thinking about Alan Garner’s books. They’re that good.

Right. Next, move on to Susan Cooper, and her magnificent The Dark is Rising sequence of books; once you’ve read them, try Victory for size, a story which links the modern day to the Battle of Trafalgar, and which is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read. I read the last fifty pages of it through a veil of tears. Just a fair warning.

Then, there’s Jenny Nimmo, and her Snow-Spider Trilogy, which is fabulous.

There’s also John Connolly, who has written for children (beautifully), but who also has the marvellous Charlie Parker detective novels, all of which are worth reading; my favourite is Bad Men.

I’ve spoken before on this blog about Jeanette Winterson. To be honest, I’d find it impossible to recommend one of her books above any of the others, but if I had to, it’d be Sexing the Cherry. Or The Passion. Or The Power Book. Or Written on the Body. Gah! I can’t choose. Read them all, and you decide.

Margaret Atwood. What can I say about her? Read The Edible Woman, and follow it up with Surfacing, and then let me know if your mind is blown. Because mine was when I first read these books. I was the same age as Atwood had been when she’d written them, and I went into a funk of ‘what on earth am I doing with my life?’ that lasted about four years.

It’s pretty unfashionable not to read and love Neil Gaiman these days; I’m no exception to the rule. Pick anything he’s written and give it a go, and I’m pretty sure you’ll love it. I recommend all his novels (perhaps not Anansi Boys as much as the others, for some reason), but my absolute favourite Gaiman is Sandman, his graphic novel. Genius.

I love Garth Nix. I read The Abhorsen Trilogy several years ago, and was astounded. Those books inspired me to write more than (I think) any other young adult/children’s book I’ve ever read. Give them a whirl, if you haven’t already.

When it comes to Ursula le Guin, everyone recommends The Earthsea Quartet. Of course, I do, too. But there’s so much more to her than that. The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, and The Word for World is Forest are also amazing.

I’ve just finished reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly, either. I took a chance on it, as I’d never read anything by the author before, and I was richly rewarded for it. A beautiful, completely unique book, it’s great and should be widely read.

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando changed my life when I first read it. It showed me what a novel can do, by breaking every single narrative rule in the universe and then making a brilliant story out of the shards. Incredible.

Also, Sylvia Plath’s Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, which isn’t a novel (it’s a collection of stories). This book left a lasting impression on me. Everyone has read The Bell Jar (also wonderful), but not as many people have read Plath’s stories. So, do it.

I reckon that’s enough for one day. I have a feeling I’ll revisit this topic, because I’ve really enjoyed taking a stroll through my bookish memories.

Have you read any/all of the books I mention here? What did you think? Would you agree that they’re worth recommending to others, or am I off my trolley?