Book Review: Lirael (The Abhorsen Trilogy #2) by Garth Nix

47629Title: Lirael (The Abhorsen Trilogy #2)
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: CollinsVoyager
Publication Date: September 1st 2004
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Rating: 4,5 stars

Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Abandoned by her mother, ignorant of her father’s identity, Lirael resembles no one else in her large extended family living in the Clayr’s glacier. She doesn’t even have the Sight–the ability to See into the present and possibly futures–that is the very birthright of the Clayr.

Nonetheless, it is Lirael in whose hands the fate of the Old Kingdom lies. She must undertake a desperate mission under the growing shadow of an ancient evil–one that opposes the Royal Family, blocks the Sight of the Clayr, and threatens to break the very boundary between Life and Death itself. With only her faithful companion, the Disreputable Dog to help her, Lirael must find the courage to seek her own hidden destiny.

Fourteen years have passed since Sabriel deveated the evil lurking behind The Ninth Gate in the first book in the series, but still there are powers of darkness at work in The Old Kingdom – powers so ancient and devastating that this time, the powers of the Abhorsen alone might not be enough to deliver the kingdom from evil. With Sabriel running off on Abhorsen-duties and King Touchstone working around the clock to keep the kingdom in check, and re-establish old orders long forgotten, it might be up to their children to fight evil this time.

Prince Sameth, the youngest child of the most famous Abhorsen and her equally-famous husband, is taking classes at Ancelstierre and exceeding in all expectations, except those placed on him as future Abhorsen. After a trip to the river Styx gone bad, Sameth is deadly terrified ever to enter the Realm of the Dead again. Unwilling to let his mother, his ancestors and the entire Kingdom down, he tries to hide his fear, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the Kingdom, we meet Lirael. She’s a daughter of the Clayr, one of the important magical families of the Old Kingdom. She is separated from extended family by her strange looks and what’s even worse, her unability to See. Unlike the other Clayr, Lirael has no power to see into the future and, it seems, she is unlikely to ever gain it. What Lirael does have is cleverness and curiosity and an unmistakable talent for magic. However, that doesn’t mean that Lirael isn’t insanely jealous over the other Clayr for being able to See, and that she still feels like an outsider in her own home. Her only refuge is the library. Filled with knowledge and dangers (both remembered and forgotten), the library is a place of seemingly endless proportions. Exploring the library, Lirael’s magical abilities grow and she even forges a companion from Ancient Magic, The Disreputable Dog.

With the dangers of Chlorr of the Mask and the necromancer Hedge lurking about, the Old Kingdom may just have to face its greatest adversaries up till now. But although these two are bad enough on their own, there might be an even greater and more terrifying evil behind them. And Prince Sameth, his best friend Nick and Lirael are right in the middle of it…

It was obvious from the start that Lirael, the main character of this book, has a lot more personality traits going for her than Sabriel. With that, I don’t mean that she’s a more interesting character per sé, she just leaves a more memorable expression in your mind. Why? Because whereas I was convinced the first book in the series, Sabriel, was clearly directed towards an older audience than the book’s apparent genre (young adult), it’s obvious that Lirael is much more like a whining teenager than Sabriel could ever be. And even though I found her at times annoying, and I wanted to slap her across the head on multiple occassions, she isn’t as untouchable, stony and all-mighty powerful as Sabriel was. Don’t get me wrong, Sabriel had issues as well, but she was practically an adult by the time her story started, and in any case she managed to behave herself like one. Lirael on the other hand, is a prime example of how any ordinary teenager reacts to not feeling wanted in her own home, of not being like everyone else, to being an outsider.

Putting that aside though, Lirael is a real crybaby as well. So she doesn’t See and she hardly fits in with the other members of the Clayr. But even when trusted upon with ancient secrets, even when being able to practice such advanced Magic that she manages to create/summon The Disreputable Dog, Lirael still continues to whine and whine and whine. She even thinks about ending her life, because nothing in the world could be more important than Seeing something. It doesn’t once cross her minds that she can do things the other Clayr could never dream of, or that she’s pretty special in her own way. Also, did I mention that she’s remarkably beautiful? So beautiful that people she doesn’t know come to talk to her from the other side of the Clayr’s dining room. Whereas other people would atleast try to have a pleasant conversation, or behave politely, Lirael could care less about other’s feelings, and she doesn’t care about boys admiring her. Why? Because she can’t See. And if you can’t See, in Lirael’s world, then you can’t be pretty/intelligent/nice to hang around with/interesting/special either. That’s how short-sighted the girl really is. She might be more memorable and easier to relate to than Sabriel, but she’s immature and ignorant as well.

Fortunately for us, the reader, she does turn around as the story progresses. Sure, she wasn’t exactly as grateful as I would have liked her to be when she discovered more about her ancestors and her purpose in life, but hey – it’s whiny teenager we’re talking about here. She wouldn’t be grateful if her life depended on it. She loves The Disreputable Dog but hardly realizes what a trustworthy, loyal and strong companion he is. Like everything in her life, she doesn’t respect him/her (what is the dog? a female or a male? I have no idea) the way she should, because he/she didn’t help her to See. Well, boohoo. That’s kind of like saying: everyone in my family is a mime player. If I have no talent whatsoever to be a mime, than everything else in life doesn’t count. Not even if I have the brains and skills to create something that travels faster than the speed of light, or if I can become President of the United States. You know, because I’m not a mime and everyone in my family is a mime. Suuuure, Lirael. Sure. Saving the Old Kingdom vs. being your average, ten in a dozen Seer is so much cooler. Please grow up already.

Prince Sameth has a couple childhood-issues of his own to deal with, but they make him interesting rather than whiny. He struggles with his responsibilities as the next Abhorsen, since he’s terrified of travelling to the Realm of the Dead ever since getting attacked there by an opponent far stronger than he. Instead, he loves to build things. Anything. And he’s actually pretty good at what he does, because his displays of craftmanship are often looked upon respectfully by others who see them. By his own family not so much though. Whereas Lirael doesn’t fit in due to something she had no choice in, Sameth purposefully chooses not to belong to his family. It’s not that he wants it though, it’s that his choices in life, mostly his fears, prevail him from doing what his family expects. Lirael is too ignorant to see the other choices life has given her besides being a Seer, Prince Sameth sees the choices but is too afraid to choose one of them. Teenagers nowadays…Why I liked Sameth more was because his problems seem less due to his own ignorance than to his position and fears. He’s a Prince for god’s sake. Cowardice doesn’t suit the royal blood well, and yet that’s exactly what Sam encounters while venturing to the Realm of the Dead. His own cowardice. The struggle between Sameth and his own fears is an interesting one, a coming-of-age story that’s quite inspiring and puts a lot of thoughts on your mind.

But scratch Lirael’s ignorance and Sameth’s irrational fear. Scratch the evil necromancers Chlorr of the Mask (although I did find her interesting) and Hedge. Because that’s not what makes this book great – although it helps a fair share. It’s Lirael’s ventures into the library, which is an impressive example of world-building skills alltogether with its many secret rooms, its hierarcy of librarians, and its ancient secrets waiting to be unlocked and The Disreputable Dog – a creature of magic more ancient than the Kingdoms itself that make this book interesting. A character of great intelligence, courage and determination, The Dog is also witty, hilarious and highly entertaining. Not as much as Mogget though, who makes another appearance in this book (by far the best scenes, if I’m being honest) and who is still captured by a sleeping-spell causing him to sleep at least fifteen hours a day. I think I might just start a Mogget fanclub soon. Anyone feel like joining?

If you asked me whether I liked Sabriel or Lirael more, I’d have to say that I prefer Lirael. Maybe not for the characters or their incredibly interesting personalities (notice the sarcasm?) but because there weren’t so many things to explain in this book. Whereas in book one, the author still had to introduce us to the world of Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom, the various ways magic is practiced here, the duties of the Abhorsen and their use of enchanted bells, we already know that by the time we venture into book two. Less explaining to do, more action and dialogue to enjoy. I also enjoyed the fact that whereas Sabriel could be a stand-alone read, Lirael really isn’t. By the end, I couldn’t wait to grab the next book in the trilogy, Abhorsen, and devour it completely in one reading session.

As usually, Garth Nix’s writing style is spot-on. He develops his characters nicely, and even if I find some of their personality traits down-right nauseating, that doesn’t mean that they’re not well-developed, or that they don’t go through some sort of growth-process. Lirael is a fast-paced, action-packed sequel to Sabriel, and exceeds the first novel in the Abhorsen Trilogy in both storyline and plot development. The world we are presented with, from the frosty mountains of the Clayr to the Royal Palace where Sameth resides, is rich, compelling and enthralling. I cannot wait to venture into the world of the Old Kingdom again, and do some more exploring. Recommended to all fantasy fans bored of the elves/humans/dwarfs war triangles, and up for something new and refreshing. The Abhorsen Trilogy will not dissapoint.


  1. Lirael was my favorite in that series. I absolutely loved the whole trilogy, but that one stood out for me.


  1. […] already reviewed the first two books of this trilogy, Sabriel and Lirael, and I have to say that out of all three of these books, I enjoyed Abhorsen the most. It’s […]

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