Wednesday 6 January 2010

Lirael - Garth Nix

Lirael is the second book in the Abhorsen trilogy, although events have moved on from the first book (Sabriel). We pick up the story about twenty years after the end of Sabriel - she and Touchstone are now, respectively, the Abhorsen and King of the Old Kingdom.

One part of the story deals with their son, Sameth. He has attended school in Ancelstierre and grown up there, with only occasional trips back into the Old Kingdom. It is generally expected that he will follow in the footsteps of his mother and is termed the Abhorsen-in-Waiting since he is able to feel death, and has travelled into Death with Sabriel. Close to the end of his time at school, Sam and the cricket team he is part of are attacked by a wave of the dead, and Sam is badly injured by the necromancer Hedge when he attempts to go into Death with no bells of protection. After this, he suffers from depression, self-pity and almost-phobia of anything connected to death.

Alongside his story we meet Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr. She has always been an outsider, both due to her colouring (dark hair and eyes compared to the mostly blonde and blue-eyed Clayr) and the fact that no one knows who her father is. She is fourteen when we first meet her, and unable to use the Sight - the magical gift of the Clayr to see into the future. As she grows more and more lonely and worthless, she is finally given a position in the Clayr Library, where she learns much more about Charter Magic (including creating the Disreputable Dog, a mysterious character created of Charter and Free magic - somewhat similar to Mogget in Sabriel). Her storyline leads her to the almost-forgotten talents of being a Remembrancer, someone who is able to go into Death to see back in time.

The two plots draw together eventually when Lirael and Sam meet up on their respective journeys and learn what extreme peril the Old Kingdom is in from the actions of Hedge, Chlorr (one of the Greater Dead) and Nicholas - an old school friend of Sam's who has been drawn into the events occurring.

So... this was definitely a more complicated plot and clocked in at a couple of hundred pages more than Sabriel. Generally the extra pages were used to good effect, although there were a few occasions when I felt the story was drifting somewhat.

This was especially when we first met Lirael - we experienced in great depth her misery and suicidal tendencies from not gaining the Sight, and these passages, although necessary to create Lirael's situation, did drag somewhat. As soon as she was given a position in the Library, her storyline trundled along merrily, and the addition of the Dog was a great touch (although I did prefer Mogget)!

Sam came across very badly as a character and I had very little sympathy for him. Sure, his mother was not around a great deal during the time he was growing up, but on the occasions they came together they seemed to have a warm and loving relationship - so why did he not feel able to talk to his mother about his fear of Death? This was frustrating to me, but maybe I am not putting myself in the shoes of a young man who has great expectatons laid on his shoulders.

The Library was fantastic! The descriptions of this immense space, with the hidden doors that led to strange and unusual rooms, was brilliant - I wish I could be a Librarian there!

I also loved the coming-of-age nature of the story. Lirael, especially, went through a massive development arc, so that at the end of the book we left her as a sensible and rather serious young woman who knew what her duties needed to be. Even Sam redeemed himself somewhat, although he came across as incredibly cowardly (although, again, maybe I should cut him some slack - the descriptions of Hedge were terrifying enough that I don't think I would want to face him more than once!)

One complaint about Lirael's story is that, as soon as she started to sense the Dead in her role as Remembrancer, it was signposted pretty heavily what the resolution to her particular story would be - and who her father might have been. I would have liked a little more mystery about this, but it is a fairly minor complaint when held up against the brilliance of the story.

Nix writes in a fantastically compelling manner - the short chapters and the efficiency of the prose invites you to read without putting the book down. His descriptions are highly effective - especially of places. Not only the Library, but the Reservoir where the Royal family met in one scene and the Abhorsen House are described so that you actually feel you have been there. Great stuff!

I must warn that Lirael is not a complete story, as Sabriel was - here, the story looks to continue immediately in Abhorsen, the third book, so I would highly recommend having a copy of this to hand due to the cliffhanger ending.

I really wonder why it has taken so long for me to catch up with what is rapidly becoming one of my favourite YA sequences. Excellent and recommended.

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