Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen (The Old Kingdom series book 4) by Garth Nix (book review).

‘Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen’ is the fourth book in ‘The Old Kingdom’ series by Garth Nix and I have waited for its release for a long time. It is a standalone prequel to the original trilogy and focuses on Clariel, who is a character mentioned in the previous books as a necromancer from the Abhorsen family.


‘The Old Kingdom’ series consists of three novels which are ‘Sabriel’, ‘Lirael’ and ‘Abhorsen’. They are fantasy novels written in a different world that consists of two kingdoms, the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre, which are separated by a wall. Ancelstierre is similar to a 1900’s England with magic only really working near the wall and with few believing it even exists. In contrast, the Old Kingdom is a medieval country where there are two different types of magic: Charter magic and Free magic. Charter magic was created from binding Free magic to be used in a safe and ordered form by Charter mages. Free magic is dangerous, hard to control and is used by necromancers and powerful Free magic creatures intent on causing harm.

The books focus on the Abhorsen, a job title and family name, who are entrusted with the job of defeating necromancers and returning to death the creatures they try to raise. Clariel is from the Abhorsen family but her character is set 600 years before the story line of ‘Sabriel’.

Clariel is uprooted from her home in the country where she is dreaming of being a forest ranger of sorts to the capital Belisare, a foreign world where she doesn’t seem to have nor want a place in.

Belisare is in the middle of political turmoil and Clariel is being pushed into being a key player in it because of her relation to the King Orrikan. He is aging and his heir apparent is missing, which makes Clariel’s mother, Jaciel, and Clariel herself next in line. The city is being run by the Guildmasters and her parents, without explanation or approval, have engaged her to a high placed Guildmaster’s son who happens to be a sociopath with ambitions to the crown.

Clariel has no intention of following along with their plans and plots to escape the city back to her forest but she needs the help of an expert Charter mage to leave the city as she is unskilled in Charter magic. The Charter mage recruits her to help him get rid of a dangerous Free magic creature in the city. Clariel is uniquely capable of helping him find the creature due to being a beserker, a person with uncontrollable rage and strength who can control and attract Free magic creatures. Unfortunately, beserkers can get attracted to the power which lets them control Free magic creatures and fall into necromancy.

Clariel, having been mentioned in the previous books as a necromancer, tells us that this book doesn’t end happily. Having said that, she is still a strong and capable female lead who spends the book trying to do the right thing to the best of her ability. Her struggle with the temptations of dark magic is understandable and believable.

I can’t say that Clariel is very likeable as a character. She doesn’t seem to like other people much neither but I never once stopped rooting for her the entire book. I found myself frustrated at every obstacle she faced and, even though I knew what she would eventually become, I couldn’t help looking for ways out for her. I think some people might find it hard to empathise with her loner personality which is so very different from the lonely Lirael or the quietly confident Sabriel but I think anyone can relate to someone so determined to do what they’ve always dreamed of, even as their world falls apart around them. She’s a sort of reluctant, incapable hero and really embodies someone who is trying to do the right thing but going about it the wrong way.

I enjoyed how Garth Nix explored a necromancer’s perspective and it shows you how the Old Kingdom world is not as black and white as portrayed in the previous books. Nix’s ‘The Old Kingdom’ books are rather dark and sad and ‘Clariel’ even more so. I was worried that knowing Clariel would become a necromancer would make the plot more predictable, but that wasn’t the case. The plot was fast-paced, engaging and had a unexpectedly hopeful ending.

All in all, ‘Clariel’ was definitely worth the wait and hopefully we won’t have to wait as long for the next instalment

Supreethi Selvam

December 2015

(pub: Hot Key Books. 400 page paperback. Price: £ 5.99 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-47140-386-6)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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