Published in 2014 by HarperCollins
Awards: 2015 Locus YA nominated
Challenges: Pick and Mix, New in 2014
Rather than making it feel like an afterthought, I will begin by praising the audiobook narration by Graeme Malcom. I never felt like any character didn't fit their voice and he never pulled me out of the flow of the story. Some stories need the narration to have distinctive flair, but this one didn't, and Mr Malcom filled the roll of storyteller well.
Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen is the story of how Clariel, a member of the Abhorsen family but not The Abhorsen, starts down the path to becoming Chlorr of the Mask, a powerful Free Magic sorcerer and villain. At first it didn't seem like a great book. It didn't meet my expectations. But once again I found that I was the one that was wrong, not the book. It all clicked into place once I realized that "lost" has many meanings when applied to Clariel.
Lost = Adrift
Lost = Astray
Lost = Wasted
Lost = Unremembered
Clariel is not a hero; she's a teenager, of age with Sabriel and Lirael, and she is an outsider, coming from a small city on the edge of a vast forest to the capital. She is on the cusp of adulthood, still under her parent's guidance but confident in where she wants her life to take her. She has strong ties to the forest city of Estwael and has secretly been training to be a Borderer, a protector of the forest. When her parents suddenly move the family to Belesair, the capital city, to further Clariel's mother's career, Clariel is severed from the roots she has put down in Estwael. She does not take the change well and continually plots her escape from the city. That is the first way that Clariel is "lost". She is adrift.
Once her goals are yanked out of reach, Clariel finds that she is both stronger and more vulnerable than she ever thought. She comes into contact with a Free Magic being and is immensely tempted by the power it can offer her. She has the strength to take that power, but is so desperate to get back to her familiar life in the forest that those powers are able to steer her to their own ends. I won't give too much away, but you already knew she ends up a villain. This is the second way that Clariel is "lost". She is led astray.
Again, without giving away too much of the plot, but knowing where Clariel ends up, it is clear that her heritage as a member of both the royal lines and the Abhorsens, combined with her natural inclinations, put her in a position where she could have been an important person. Her friendship with her cousin Bel, also an Abhorsen and enthusiastic about bringing the position of The Abhorsen back to its former vigilance and effectiveness, could have helped her to be an asset to the kingdom, whether she ended up as The Abhorsen or not. But none of that can come to fruition. Clariel's potential is lost, wasted.
Her story is unremembered by the time Lirael encounters Chlorr of the Mask. By that time, no one cared or could care that Chlorr was once a young woman with innocent ambitions and intentions. Clariel is truly lost.
There is a lot to like about this book besides just the variations on the theme of "lost". Bel is a wonderful character. I'm a bit sad that Garth Nix has not announced a plan to tell Bel's story. He is tenacious, clever, and sincere, exactly the type of character I like to read about. We haven't gotten to read a story of a "typical" Abhorsen, if such a person could exist, and I would like to see the Old Kingdom with renewed strength before the decay that we know is coming.
Clariel is also asexual and refreshingly undramatic about it. The story is not a discovery of her lack of sexuality, but it is an integral part of her character, avoiding the "just happens to be ____" and "just happens to not contain romance" cliches. Clariel could not just be replaced with a sexual character and Nix doesn't pretend that romance couldn't be a part of this story.
And Mogget. Mogget is here, not in his full glory, but certainly in his full Moggetness. He's part of the "astray" variation on "lost", and his interactions with Clariel are a joy to read.
Even a few days after I finished it, this book is sitting well with me. I'm glad that it exists and I'm eager for new stories set in the Old Kingdom.