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      Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr
Garth Nix
HarperTrophy, 491 pages
      HarperTrophy, 705 pages
      HarperCollins Eos, 358 pages

Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr
Garth Nix
Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia. He left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin. He returned to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After graduating in 1986, he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher's sales representative, and editor. He left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, until he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002, Garth went back to dedicated writer again. Garth currently lives in a beach suburb of Sydney, with his wife Anna, a publisher, and new born baby Thomas Henry.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Ragwitch
Garth Nix at HarperCollins

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

"One of the Greater Dead! It came behind us, almost from the Wall. We couldn't turn back. It has servants, Hands, a Mordicant!"
Sabriel, is the first of a trilogy for readers who like their fantasy rammed through the gaps in the land of imagination. The heroine and title character is an 18-year-old student at Wyverley College, for young ladies of quality. Sabriel's father is the Abhorsen, a unique type of necromancer, both feared and respected. Abhorsens see dead people, and kick their rotting backsides. Sabriel first began to follow in her father's terrifying footsteps, literally walking into Death, when she was twelve. One day, she knows that she will become the Abhorsen, served by supernatural entities called Sendings, and plagued by Mogget, a dangerous talking cat. The Abhorsen home -- like this reviewer -- is on a tiny island, tucked away in a decaying but still magical Old Kingdom. The eldritch part of the land is partitioned, both physically and metaphysically, from a small semi-industrialised town named Ancelstierre. The partition is a great wall, on one side of which old magic waxes, and on the other it wanes. Except for when the North wind blows, and the dividing line becomes blurred.

Garth Nix's cleverness as a writer shows in his ability to swiftly fashion an alternate world, and an instantly addictive plot. What we are presented with is halfway familiar, yet also unsettlingly strange. Sprinkled among the small, every day events, are references to the dark past, creatures that once roamed the Old Kingdom, and places which ultimately do not play a part in Sabriel's adventure. Thus is the world made wide, without detracting from the main focus. The only real negatives are that the plot can, at times, seem a little formulaic, and there's a distinct absence of humour. It could be argued that death isn't funny, and what Sabriel has to deal with is certainly very serious. But, an element of appropriately sardonic levity would have made a very good book into a classic of the genre. Offsetting this small failing, is the cracking pace of the plot, which hardly stops to catch a breath. Close to five hundred pages fly past. Sabriel is recherché fantasy at its best, and should appeal to most people this side of the undead.

"There's so much to see and smell here! Whole levels of the library that no one has been into for a hundred, a thousand years! Locked rooms full of ancient secrets. Treasure! Knowledge! Fun! Do you want to be just a Third Assistant Librarian all your life?"
Set fourteen years after the events portrayed in Sabriel, Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr features two central characters; Lirael, a young girl belonging to the Clayr, a precognitive bloodline, and Prince Sameth, the son of two major characters introduced in Sabriel. Unusually for a Clayr girl of her age, Lirael does not have the magical Sight. This makes her something of a social oddity, not exactly outcast, but considered to be less grown up than her contemporaries. This leads to her being relegated to the roll of librarian. Her one true friend is the Disreputable Dog, a creature of Free Magic who is more than he seems. Running parallel to Lirael's story, are the attempts of Prince Sameth to avoid the dangerous duties his bloodline requires him to undertake. His sensible reluctance to lead a gung-ho life is a refreshing change to the standard fantasy model, but as a character there often seems to be little point in him being around. On many occasions he is upstaged by the four-legged members of the cast. Lirael has over two hundred more pages than its predecessor, which provides room for deeper plot development, enticing back history, and the moments of fun missing from Sabriel.

Unfortunately, it's also long enough to allow some slack plotting, such as the way that the main enemy is shunted sideways soon after his introduction, and kept absent in person for hundreds of pages. There are plenty of hints as to what he is planning, and his machinations do come to a satisfying conclusion. But, I couldn't help but feel Lirael would've been a better work if it had included much more up close and personal time focused on the principle villain. On the plus side, Lirael herself is almost as good a character as Sabriel, and the book is well worth reading.

"No!" Shouted a voice that was not instantly recognisable as Mogget's. "No!"

"Run!" roared the Dog. Amidst the shouts and yells and roaring, the Charter light above Lirael's head suddenly dimmed to little more than a faint glow. Then it went out.

The Abhorsen Trilogy Abhorsen, the last book of the trilogy, is also the best. Nix develops the promise and plots of his previous two works like a master. Beginning just where Lirael left off, all of the main characters are now well established, and have clear missions. Right from the start, we're given a firm overview as to why Prince Sameth is involved and how he fits into the grand scheme of things. The Disreputable Dog and Mogget the magical cat are now vital characters, and every bit as important as their two-legged companions. Mogget, especially, does a shape-shifting, tongue-in-cheek, appearance as what might be considered a close cousin to Smeagol. Evil too is given its due, and as a result produces a sense of threat that feels like spiders on the skin. Although it's the shortest book in the series, Abhorsen packs the hardest punch. Nix's storytelling is never less than commanding, and his precision plot stays tightly focused. The icing on the cake, and a mark of a good writer becoming great, is the care taken to make peripheral characters into real people. Thus avoiding 'red jersey' syndrome. Throughout, the dangerous tang of Free Magic hangs in the air, leading to an ending which is both splendidly cinematic, and satisfyingly definitive.

Copyright © 2005 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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