Series: The Old Kingdom #0.5
Published by HarperCollins
Published on October 14th 2014
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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.
I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Clariel is better known as the centuries-old necromancer and later the Greater Dead creature Chlorr of the Mask in Lirael. This is her early story.
Clariel wants nothing more than to live as a Borderer in the Great Forest of Estwael. So when she is dragged by her Master Goldsmith mother Jaciel to Belisaire, to marry the Governer’s son Aronzo and forever be trapped in a life she is desperate to escape, Clariel takes steps to ensure her own freedom – even if it comes at a great cost.
This is not your typical origin story. This does not detail how Clariel becomes Chlorr the necromancer – rather, it details the early steps taken by Clariel so that you can understand how someone from the ‘good’ side of magic can become so twisted and corrupted. Clariel is not gifted with strong Charter Magic nor much knowledge of the Abhorsens due to a family feud, but she is gifted with the beserk rage familiar in both Touchstone and Sam, and that is tainted with Free Magic. Through the Free Magic, Clariel works to get what she wants – but doing the wrong thing for the right reason is still the wrong thing, and that’s a lesson I Clariel doesn’t learn, and I suspect still doesn’t learn later in her life and contributes to her downfall as Chlorr.
Clariel is of course our protagonist. She’s strong-willed and knows exactly what she wants in life, even at only 17. She’s also trapped under her mother’s tyrannical reign. It’s super easy to identify with Clariel’s chafing need to spread her wings and be independent, knowing she will thrive in her chosen career as a Borderer, and feel the helpless obedience that comes with being a dependent child. She’s also asexual, which I think, for some, might be interesting. I couldn’t really tell if it was just used as a minor plot point to keep rejecting certain suitors’ advancements on her. It certainly was easy to feel her horror as news of her arranged marriage came through. She’s not particularly selfish but she is self-absorbed to the point where that’ll the catalyst, she’s abrasive to the horror of other characters and doesn’t want to take part in their charades.
We see little of Clariel’s parents, her father who does the admin side of the goldsmithing business despite being a talented smith himself, and Jaciel, who is more obsessed with her work than he own family.
Also appearing is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting-in-Waiting, Belariel, or Bel, who is Clariel’s cousin and friend from the Academy. Bel is concerned that the current Abhorsens, in a family of 300 strong, are too busy ceremoniously hunting to face the tasks required of the real Abhosren, so Bel’s been training at night and reading The Book of the Dead in secret.
Also popping up for a pretty major role in corrupting Clariel is Moggett, the wiley twisty little feline-bound Free Magic creature who cannot be trusted!
The biggest issue I had going in was that I was expecting more of clean and cut origin story when really, it sort of hinted at Clariel’s weakness and her eventual downfall to come. Imagine writing a Joker origin story where at the end he’s just getting involved in crime but he doesn’t fall into the vat of chemicals that changes him forever; or a Batman Begins without Bruce Wayne ever making the Batsuit; or a Superman story that is basically Smallville where we never see Supes don the cape, but while that works for Smallville, it took me until actually finishing the book to realise I wasn’t going to get Clariel’s tragic fall into the Joker vat of chemicals after all. We don’t see her become a necromancer – we see her fight the urge. We don’t see her do anything evil, really – she still tries to save lives and even though she does murder people, that can be viewed through a justice or revenge lens.
This book tricks you. It tricks you into thinking it’s got a slower pace than it does. We follow Clariel around the city for the first third before anything of interest really happens, much like following Lirael in the library – it’s all a big set up that you don’t even realise is happening. Then it’s all go-go-go all the time until you’re screaming at yourself to stop reading so fast, it’ll all be over soon.
I certainly think Clariel is a book you’ll only get the most enjoyment out of if you’ve read the previous Old Kingdom books.