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My rating: 4/5
'Clariel' is the fourth book in the 'Old Kingdom' series by Garth Nix. For a long time, it was just a trilogy, with the third book being published in 2003. I am so glad that Garth Nix decided to bring back this fantastic world of magic and bloodlines.
This novel is set in the Old Kingdom, home of the Abhorsen, protector of the living from the dead, the King, and the Clayr or seers. The bloodlines of all three are important to keep the kingdom whole. The Charter - the magical force from which Charter Mages can pluck their spells - depends on these three bloodlines and the great Charter Stones, to keep the corruptive creatures of Free Magic away from the people. The city of Belisaere, where our story mostly takes place, is an important hub containing the royal palace and Charter Stones, as well as a bustling harbour.
We follow Clariel, daughter of the High Goldsmith Jaciel and her consort Harven, a lesser goldsmith who deals with the administration of Jaciel's business in the forge. The family relocates to Belisaere from the town of Estwael, next to the Great Forest. Clariel is stricken to be torn from her familiar surroundings, as the forest was her greatest comfort. She has never felt love or compassion from her mother or father particularly, Jaciel being too strong and Harven too weak to engage with. She would often go to see her aunt Lemmin who lived near the forest, and steal off to stalk the woods with the Borderers - the guardians of the forest. She learned a lot about hunting and self-sufficiency that her parents have no idea about.
Being thrust into the pompous, high-society in Belisaere is a nightmare for Clariel, who only wants to escape and make her life in the Great Forest. She is determined that she does not need a lady's maid or a guard, does not need to go to a finishing school or be treated like royalty just because of her mother's expert skills in Goldsmithing. She even has to go and visit the king and present a 'kin gift', as he and Clariel are distant cousins, which is a baffling task. Even Charter Magic is frowned upon in Belisaere, as a menial task meant for servants, and the important people must cover up their Charter mark (a forehead birthmark connecting them to the Charter, if they have magic blood) with a special face paint.
Clariel meets a Charter mage, Kargrin, who vows to teach her the basics of Charter magic, which she neglected to learn. He also agrees to help her to escape the city and return to the forest with money and a disguise to aid her on her journey. However, Clariel's plan is thwarted by Kilp, governor of the city, and his smug son Aronzo. Kilp's desire for power grows unrestricted now that the King has taken a back seat in the running of the city. Clariel's world is thrown into complete disarray by an unspeakable tragedy, and she has no idea who to turn to. Everyone wants her to do "what's best for her", and all Clariel wants to do is run away and live in the forest.
I found this book gripping in a gentle way. It was probably not until the second half of the book that I became involved in finding out what would happen. I guess the first half is important for establishing the city and what is going on behind the scenes. The plot took such an unexpected twist for me, and while I couldn't always agree with what was going on, it was an excellent adventure and I knew why it had to happen that way.
I do regret the fact that I cannot remember the other books in the series - 'Sabriel', 'Lirael' and 'Abhorsen'. I would definitely recommend reading those in the proper order before attempting to read 'Clariel', to give some background knowledge of the world it is based in. I must admit that it may have been easier if I could remember the events of the previous three books. I should have dug them out and read them before starting Clariel, possibly, but it didn't occur to me at the time.
This review was written by guest blogger Jemma