Clariel is not adjusting well to life in the city of Belisaere after moving there with her parents for her mothers work and she dreams of returning to the forests of Estwael. In the city she feels trapped and confined by the politics of society but that’s the least of her problems when a Free Magic creature is spotted around the city. It is her chance to prove herself, to escape from the city and make her own path but things don’t always turn out the way she wished for.
It was great to return to the Old Kingdom series as Clariel is a prequel to the original trilogy set 600 years before Sabriel. It’s was great to see the connections between the books and how the Old Kingdom as a country has changed in the time inbetween the two books. This Old Kingdom doesn’t have respect for the royal family or for the power of the Charter and the Abhorsen meaning that many people don’t believe in it and think of the Charter as something unseemly and something not to be used by respected citizens.
This attitude means that our heroine is vastly different to previous heroines in the Old Kigdon series. Clariel knows only the most basic Charter magic (and what she does know she isn’t very good at) and she has a connection to Free Magic which makes her different to Sabrel and Lirael. It’s great that Clariel stands out as a character but her ignorance of the Charter and the potential danger she could be in is often frustrating. But just because she isn’t a good Charter mage it doesn’t mean she’s helpless. Clariel is resourceful, headstrong and she’s always armed and knows how to fight and protect herself. That being said she was also a bit whiny and unlikeable to start with as all she really cares about is leaving the city and returning to the forests of Estwael – this means that she often doesn’t think about anyone else including her parents and those who would consider themselves her friends.
I liked the political intrigue in Clariel, although it did make the book a bit slow to start. The King is absent and the Guildmaster seems to want to use Clariel somehow to gain more power in the city. Clariel isn’t sure who to trust as there seems to be spies everywhere and people are pushing her into certain directions – including her parents and her maid. The political stuff in the first half of the book helped build the tension and made every decision made by Clariel seem more important and risky.
I did find it a bit strange reading Clariel to start with as the world was so different yet so similar to the one I’ve known from the original trilogy but I soon got over that and the political intrigue was great and the second half of the book was certainly action-packed and exciting. I (eventually) loved Clariel as a character and I loved the book, it was a wonderful addition to the series and helped make the world of the Old Kingdom more fleshed out. 4/5.