Clariel is the latest book by Garth Nix set in the Old Kingdom. It’s a prequel, set hundreds of years before the others. I love Sabriel and the other Old Kingdom books so much. I read them when I was in middle school, and I’ve read them over and over again, and they’re so important to me. I love the characters, and the world, and just about everything.
So obviously I was pretty excited about this book. It wasn’t disappointing, but it isn’t as great as the others, though that could be bias and nostalgia talking. It got stronger at the end, when it became clearer what kind of narrative it was going to be. (vague spoilers: it’s about an anti-hero and the world crumbling, which is honestly a really interesting story. But at the beginning it’s set up to be a renegade coming of age story, and the beginning sets up expectations that don’t get fulfilled. The actual the meat of the book comes in late enough in that it feels mildly disjointed, even if the new course is much more exciting.)
Sabriel comes in the middle of a world with a rich history, and seeing the past of that world, when it was only starting to fall apart, was really fascinating. Nix has a way with setting up a system of magic and a society around it that makes sense. The high society of the capital city is very intricate. Clariel finds it absolutely baffling, but as a reader it’s a believable world? Or something. There’s a lot going on.
I definitely read Clariel as asexual and aromantic, and felt that this is supported in the text, which is super cool. Representation matters, and this is an identity that usually gets ignored or pathologized. Instead Clariel’s lack of interest in relationships is presented as common sense from her point of view. She doesn’t need a partner to be happy, just the forest and her freedom.
Clariel is an enjoyable addition to the world, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction. But if you haven’t read Sabriel you definitely should, the Old Kingdom is waiting.