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)