Selfishness and betrayal provoke inexorable tragedy in this dark prequel to a beloved fantasy trilogy.
All Clariel wants is a solitary life in the Great Forest, but her mother’s status in the powerful guilds, along with her connections to the royal and Abhorsen families, requires Clariel to stay in the capital, plagued with etiquette lessons and trapped in a loathsome betrothal. When her parents, tutors and even her friends play her for a pawn, Clariel can barely hold back her fury, and she seizes an opportunity to escape by helping capture a monster—even though she feels the deadly allure of its Free Magic. While familiarity with Nix’s Old Kingdom series isn’t necessary, it certainly adds depth, though its fans will be well-aware that Clariel’s story can have no happy ending. More shocking is the vicious portrait of the magical realm at its peak of prosperity: savage inequality inciting social breakdown, king and mage alike abandoning their responsibilities, and respect for the Charter diminished. Hostile and self-centered, Clariel makes an interesting (if not entirely likable) protagonist; her depiction as (emphatically!) asexual and aromantic is refreshing, despite the problematic implied link to being anti-social and aloof. Still, readers will hurt with her as she longs passionately for freedom, rages at her enforced helplessness, snatches at desperate bad choices, and claws after a faint, bittersweet redemption.
A thunderstorm of a tale, bitter and brutal but dazzling in its ferocity. (Fantasy. 14 & up)