After reading a string of unsatisfying fantasy, I danced with joy when Clariel was released because I knew Garth Nix would not disappoint. If you have not read his Abhorsen trilogy yet, you should get on that immediately, especially if you are a fan of young adult fantasy with strong women characters. You could start with this book, because it’s a prequel to the trilogy and covers lot of the basics of the world building, I think it makes a better companion piece to the trilogy rather than an introduction.
The book takes place a few hundred years before Sabriel begins, so the Old Kingdom is still in its hey day and the Abhorsen/royal line is still thriving. Clariel lives out in the less populated area of the Old Kingdom with her mother, one of the daughters to the current Abhorsen and estranged from her family. Her mother is a talented jewelry maker and gets invited to live at the capitol, taking Clariel away from the forests that she loves so much.
Clariel is richly developed and equal parts strong and flawed. She’s stubborn and can be single minded, but also loyal and pragmatic. My super sheltered upbringing makes me bristle a bit when I read about sexuality in young adult books, but I know that for too long we’ve just ignored the fact that teens are full of hormones. Clariel briefly touches on her own sexuality, in her own terse way, deciding after a few encounters that she loves just being in the woods more than she could ever love another person. And I can’t think of a single other book I’ve read where the main character was asexual. It’s refreshing to have not only a different type of sexuality brought up, but also to have a girl main character that isn’t driven by any romantic interests; Clariel just wants to pursue her passion of living in nature.
Even though if you’ve read the original trilogy, you know how Clariel’s story end, the journey to get that ending is still thrilling and more Abhorsen mythos is detailed. I liked that Clariel seemed to be destined to take the Abhorsen path, but still chose her own path. I just wish her own path wouldn’t have made her a villain in the end.