Sunday, March 29, 2015

REVIEW: Lirael by Garth Nix
Lirael by Garth Nix
Original Publication Year: 2001
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Series: Abhorsen #2; Review of Sabriel
Awards: None
Format: Audio (cds from Library)
Narrated by: Tim Curry

Lirael is the second in the Abhorsen trilogy and begins roughly 14 years after the events of Sabriel.  Touchstone and Sabriel have been King and Queen for a decade and a ½ and they’ve worked hard to restore the broken charter stones and bring a measure of peace and stability to the Old Kingdom.  However, new threats are starting the be felt and it is at this juncture that we are introduced to Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr.  The Clayr are soothsayers of a kind and along with the royal family and the wall and stone makers are part of the charter that governs magic in the Old Kingdom.  Unfortunately, Lirael is 14 and has not yet been granted “the sight” as all Clayr are and to make matters worse she looks very different from the rest of the Clayr who are all blond and blue-eyed.

Lirael is one half of the story.  The other half is Sabriel and Touchstone’s son, Sameth who is just finishing his schooling in Ancelstierre (The Old Kingdom’s non-magical neighbor) and who is meant to be the Abhorsen-in-waiting.  His story begins with a battle and a hugely traumatic event which has repercussions throughout the rest of the book.

It is clear that at some point Lirael and Sameth will be joining forces but this book takes it’s time developing their characters and situation as well as slowly building the tension of the bad things to come.  I thought, like Sabriel, this would be a stand-alone story but it is in fact only the first half of a two part story (finished in Abhorsen).  I can see how some readers may find this slow moving, it did not bother me at all and I appreciated Nix allowing me to get to know the two protagonists and for slowly building the menace to be faced.  By the end of the book, I was feeling very anxious about the crisis facing The Old Kingdom and the danger for Lirael and Sameth.

Lately I’ve been loudly bemoaning my inability to handle or feel sympathy for self-pitying teenagers.  In the middle of all of this irritation enter this book with two protagonists who, you guessed it, are teenagers wallowing quite unashamedly in vats of self-pity.  The thing is they didn’t annoy me.  Oh sure, from time to time I wanted to poke them and tell them to snap out of it but with nowhere near the annoyance and lack of sympathy I feel with many other books.  Why?  Because Garth Nix is brilliant and he writes his characters with a deft hand that knows his characters are being silly and gently asks for you to cut them some slack for now because they are on a journey and they will get better. 

He also does a couple of things that help keep his characters on the side of right.  Lirael’s friendship with the disreputable dog and her daring and curiosity driven adventures in the library help to dispel her self-loathing and earlier pursuit of suicide – she’s an interesting person who is trapped in a situation which isn’t bad but very understandably makes her feel like an outcast and incredibly lonely.  

Sameth is saved by Nix detailing the initial conflict in Ancelstierre where Sam proves himself to be smart, and confident with good leadership skills as well as being courageous and self-sacrificing - it signals to the readers that the next 300 pages of him cringing and anxious and self-absorbed are somehow not right.  He has been damaged in Death and it is supremely frustrating that no one notices because they are understandably absorbed in the troubles besetting the Old Kingdom.  There is also a parallel with Lirael because the expectations placed on him feel very unnatural and he has no affinity with the job of Abhorsen.  It makes him feel isolated and you guessed it, lonely. 

I also can’t leave off without talking about the Disreputable Dog which Lirael constructs unconsciously with a mixture of charter and wild magic.  Being a dog person, I LOVED her and her relationship with Lirael.  There is also some interesting mystery around who or what the dog actually is.

Finally, I once again enjoyed Tim Curry’s narration though I did not love how he voiced the disreputable dog.  It is meant to be a she but he doesn’t really give her a feminine voice and I just imagined her sounding a bit different.

FINAL VERDICT:  This one topped my love for Sabriel and is a great first half in what promises to be an epic story!  4 out of 5 stars.

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