Lirael: A rich, mysterious fantasy world

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Garth Nix Abhorsen LiraelLirael by Garth Nix

Lirael is the sequel to Garth Nix‘s best selling book Sabriel, and the second of his Old Kingdom trilogy. Set fourteen years after the events of Sabriel, this book surrounds the actions of two main characters. Prince Sameth is the capable, but rather inexperienced son of Touchstone and Sabriel, overshadowed by his elder sister and disheartened by the fact that he is the next Abhorsen — the necromancer chosen to put to rest undead legions with the help of seven magical bells. Lirael is an orphan of the Clayr: clairvoyant allies of the Royal Family who live in a vast glacial community. Unlike all of her brethren, Lirael does not possess the Sight, and so spends her days as librarian, sometimes going for months on end without speaking to another human being.

But of course, fate has other ideas for these two — evil is once more abroad in the Old Kingdom. A terrible necromancer named Hedge is causing trouble in the West, beginning the first steps of a plan that threatens both the Clayr and the Royal Family — not to mention the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre, the non-magical country across the Wall. When Lirael unleashes and brings to life a mysterious magical dog known as the Disreputable Dog, and Sameth runs away from home in order to find his ignorant Ancelstierrean friend Nick who crosses the Wall, the two are thrown into the path of Hedge and so destined to stop his evil. And there is yet more going on, a secret bond between Sameth and Lirael that they are unaware of, but need to discover if they are to understand what is truly expected of them.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsOnce more Garth Nix has written an amazing book: a rich, mysterious fantasy world, an intriguing, twisting plot, strong and realistic characterization… Nix really is a master at all of these areas. The Old Kingdom has been added upon, especially in regards to the Clayr, who were just distant allies in Sabriel. Now we get to see deep inside their home and customs, including the huge library that is surely every book-lovers dream: not just a place of endless levels of manuscripts but even deeper chambers of monsters, magic, artifacts, underground gardens, burial chambers… I could have wandered in there with Lirael forever.

Lirael and Sameth are very different from Sabriel as protagonists: where Sabriel was confident, strong and focused, Sameth and Lirael are more hesitant about their chosen paths. In doing so, Nix has made them more realistic, but readers may miss the Nancy Drew-like qualities of Sabriel that made her such a popular heroine. I must say I had quite a soft spot for Sameth — I completely understood his fear over the huge responsibility that was placed over him, and he is one of the few fantasy characters that is not just reluctant about his duties, but downright terrified of them! Either way, I found his fear easier to grasp than Lirael’s suicidal decision to chuck herself off the Clayr glacier.

The Disreputable Dog and Mogget are the highlights of the story: their meeting was exactly what I expected it to be (throw a cat and a dog together in a boat and watch the fireworks!) and provide most of the comic relief in the story, whilst dropping a few clues that there is more to their identity than meets the eye. Mogget (my favorite) is introduced a little later than I would have liked, but is still the bad tempered, superior white cat that we all remember from Sabriel.
Of course Touchstone and Sabriel aren’t forgotten, and I thought it was a nice touch that their eldest daughter Ellimere was named after one of Sabriel’s school friends that died at the end of the first book.

Basically, Lirael is one of the best, most original fantasy books you can read, certainly up there with the likes of Rowling, Tolkien, Pullman and Lewis in terms of readability and popularity. Be sure to read Sabriel first, and you’ll definitely be reaching for its sequel in a hurry.


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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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One comment

  1. Kevin S. /

    I gave this book a strong 4-star rating and I can definitely understand a 5-star rating. I never thought I’d say I like a YA series as much as Harry Potter but this series is it. It’s a bit darker and more graphic than the Harry Potter books, probably best for kids over 12.

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