The Barnes & Noble Review
Garth Nix's critically acclaimed novel, Sabriel, first introduced us to the magical world of the Old Kingdom. In Lirael, the story begins in the Old Kingdom once again, only this time it centers around the Clayr, who were only touched upon in the first book. The Clayr are a group of women who are known for their ability to see into the future. It is here that we find Lirael, who at 14 years old has yet to come into her magical ability -- and who is deeply ashamed of it. Her adolescent feelings of depression and alienation are compounded by the death of her mother. And she has never met her father. She is totally alone. Like it or not, Lirael is forced upon a journey of self-discovery.
As in Sabriel, there is a great deal going on with necromancers -- evil sorcerers who invoke the dead. (Sabriel, like her father, is an Abhorsen, someone who binds the dead and undoes the evil necromancy. Sabriel has been quite busy because there is a new evil in the land that threatens to destroy the entire kingdom.) There are basically two stories being told in Lirael. The first involves the title character, and the second revolves around Prince Sameth. Both characters must deal with their destiny, each yearning for something but not knowing exactly how to go about getting it. All Lirael wants is to have the sight, while young Sameth's wish is not to be the Abhorsen-in-waiting. Sameth has gone into Death, confronted the necromancer Hedge, and was nearly killed. He has no desire to return to that world. In the end, it is inevitable that both stories merge into one.
Just like his mother, Prince Sameth and his older sister Ellimere have been educated outside the Old Kingdom in the town of Ancelstierre. We are introduced to Sameth as he is about to graduate. His royal sister, being two years older, has already been back to the Old Kingdom preparing to be Queen. Sameth is a self-assured young man who enjoys life. Nicholas, his best friend, is not from the Old Kingdom, and he has never really believed in the Old Kingdom and its magic. After Sameth confronts Hedge, it is Nicholas who attempts to do what Sameth could not -- namely, to try and destroy the necromancer. Unwittingly, Nicholas becomes a pawn of Hedge.
While back home recuperating from his injuries, Sameth has changed. He desperately does not want to be the Abhorsen. Rather than completing his studies, he decides to go after his friend Nicholas, who has come to the Old Kingdom. While he is en route to find Nicholas, he meets up with the magical cat Mogget. It is after they are together that they finally connect with Lirael.
Lirael, in the meantime, has reached the age of 19 without receiving the sight. For the past few years she has worked in the Clayr library, which has afforded her the ability to keep her distance from her fellow Clayr. She doesn't feel like an outsider when she is working within the library's walls. And this library is not the usual sort; it is not only filled with books, but also houses the documentation of past prophecies, as well as many secret rooms filled with enchantment.
On her 19th birthday, Lirael goes exploring in the library with her magical pet, the disreputable Dog. It is then that she comes upon her real fate and is immediately sent upon a mission. The Clayr have seen a horrible future unfolding and, since Lirael is also in this vision, they send her to meet her destiny.
Garth Nix has written a story of epic proportions, filled with characters we can really believe in. We are sorry to see it end. Or does it? (Rosemary Marotta)
Read an Excerpt
An Ill-favored Birthday
Deep within a dream, Lirael felt someone stroking her forehead. A gentle, soft touch, a cool hand upon her own fevered skin. She felt herself smile, enjoying the touch. Then the dream shifted, and her forehead wrinkled. The touch was no longer soft and loving, but rough and rasping. No longer cool, but hot, burning her --
She woke up. It took her a second to realize that she'd clawed the sheet away and had been lying facedown on the coarsely woven mattress cover. It was wool and very scratchy. Her pillow lay on the floor. The pillowcase had been torn off in the course of some nightmare and now hung from her chair.
Lirael looked around the small chamber, but there were no signs of any other nocturnal damage. Her simple wardrobe of dressed pine was upright, the dull steel latch still closed. The desk and chair still occupied the other corner. Her practice sword hung in its scabbard on the back of the door.
It must have been a relatively good night. Sometimes, in her nightmare-laced sleep, Lirael walked, talked, and wreaked havoc. But always only in her room. Her precious room. She couldn't bear to think what life would be like if she were forced to go back to family chambers.
She closed her eyes again and listened. All was silent, which meant that it must be long before the Waking Bell. The bell sounded at the same time every day, calling the Clayr out of their beds to join the new day.
Lirael scrunched her eyes together more tightly and tried to go back to sleep. She wanted to regain the feel of that hand on her brow. That touch was the only thing she remembered of her mother.Not her face or her voice -- just the touch of her cool hand.
She needed that touch desperately today. But Lirael's mother was long gone, taking the secret of Lirael's paternity with her. She had left when Lirael was five, without a word, without an explanation. There never was any explanation. just the news of her death, a garbled message from the distant North that had arrived three days before Lirael's tenth birthday.
Once she had thought of that, there was no hope for sleep. As on every other morning, Lirael gave up trying to keep her eyes shut. She let them spring open and stared up at the ceiling for a few minutes. But the stone had not changed overnight. It was still grey and cold, with tiny flecks of pink.
A Charter mark for light glowed there too, warm and golden in the stone. It had shone brighter when Lirael had first awoken and grew brighter still as she swung her feet out and felt around with her toes for her half-shoes. The Clayr's halls were heated by the steam of hot springs and by magic, but the stone floor was always cold.
"Fourteen today," whispered Lirael. She had her half-shoes on, but made no move to rise. Ever since the message of her mother's death had come so close to her tenth birthday, all her birthdays had been harbingers of doom.
"Fourteen!" Lirael said again, the word laced with anguish. She was fourteen, and by the measure of the world outside the Clayr's Glacier, a woman. But here she must still wear the blue tunic of a child, for the Clayr marked the passage to adulthood not by age, but by the gift of the Sight.
Once again, Lirael closed her eyes, screwing them tight as she willed herself to See the future. Everyone else her age had the Sight. Many younger children already wore the white robe and the circlet of moonstones. It was unheard of not to have the Sight by fourteen.
Lirael opened her eyes, but she saw no vision. just her simple room, slightly blurred by tears. She rubbed them away and got up.
"No mother, no father, no Sight," she said as she opened her wardrobe and took out a towel. It was a familiar litany. She said it often, though it always made her feel a terrible stab of sorrow in her stomach. It was like worrying a toothache with her tongue. It hurt, but she couldn't leave it alone. The wound was part of her now.
But perhaps soon, one day she would be summoned by the Voice of the Nine Day Watch. Then she would wake and say, "No mother, no father, but I have the Sight."
"I will have the Sight," Lirael muttered to herself as she eased open the door and tiptoed down the corridor to the baths. Charter marks brightened as she passed under them, bringing day from twilight. But all the other doors in the Hall of Youth remained shut. Once, Lirael would have knocked on them, laughing and calling the other orphans who lived there to an early bath.
But that was years ago. Before they had all gained the Sight.
That was also when Merell was Guardian of the Young, one who had governed her charges with a light hand. Lirael's own aunt Kirrith was Guardian now. If there was any noise, she would emerge from her room in her maroon-and-white-striped bathrobe, to order silence and respect for sleeping elders. She would make no special allowance for Lirael, either. Quite the reverse. Kirrith was the exact opposite of Lirael's mother, Arielle. She was all for rules and regulations, tradition and conformity.
Kirrith would never leave the Glacier to travel who knew where, only to return seven months gone with child. Lirael scowled at Kirrith's door. Not that Kirrith had ever told her that. Kirrith wouldn't talk about her younger sister. The little Lirael knew about her mother came from eavesdropping on her closer cousins" conversations. The ones during which they discussed what to do about a girl who so obviously didn't belong. Lirael (AER). Copyright © by Garth Nix. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.