Wednesday, August 29, 2012


By Garth Nix

Here I am, dipping back into the fantasy genre. What gives?!?!

Long time readers of my blog (all four of you) might be wondering: "Wait a minute, Ryan. You have professed over and over again you staunch hatred for fantasy and yet here you are, yet again, reading a fantasy book."

You're right! And my reasoning is twofold...

First, I'm running out of books! I have precious few books on my shelf at the moment and none of them look especially appealing. I'm heading to Taipei this weekend and there is a shipment of books coming in from Canada soon, so my dearth shall last no more than a few more weeks. But it shall be slim pickins' here in Hualien for a while yet. Oh, I'm sure there are some really good books among the seven that currently reside on my shelf but none of them are jumping out at me. So it's really a sort of crapshoot at this point. Let's hope I get lucky with what I have.

Second, I went back to fantasy because of a a promise I made to commenter when I read the first novel in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom Series (Sabriel, reviewed... poorly... here). I used Sabriel (unfairly) as a vehicle in which to lash out at fantasy fans and (incorrectly) accused Garth Nix of copying both Harry Potter and Game of Thrones (both of which were published after Sabriel). It was an embarrassing post to say the least.

A commenter named Merc took me to task on my glaring factual errors and dismissive review. One thing led to another and I promised him/her that I would read the second in the series since I hardly gave the first novel a chance amidst my own biases against the genre.

So here I am making good on a promise to an anonymous commenter from over a year ago who probably hasn't been back to my blog since. Don't anyone ever accuse me of not paying my dues.

Anyway, turns out Merc was right. Lirael, the second novel in the Old Kingdom Series, is far superior to Sabriel (which despite my dismissiveness and unfairness I still dislike). In fact I would go so far as to say the book is downright good.

Lirael picks up fourteen years after the end of Sabriel. Lirael is an orphaned daughter of the Clayr who has not yet received "the sight." Through a series of events Lirael comes to work in a library. During that time she uncovers a long buried secret.... about herself. This secret is directly responsible for her leaving the Clayr on a mission to save the Old Kingdom and have a novel named after her.

Meanwhile, Sabriel and Touchstone rule the Old Kingdom hand-in-hand and have sired two children: Sameth and Ellimere. Hamlet.... I mean Sameth is an ungrateful, whiny, indecisive shit of a kid who was educated in Ancelstierre (the country south of The Wall, completely devoid of magic and suspiciously similar to 1920s England). Sameth's Ancelstierrean school buddy, Nick, decides to visit the Old Kingdom (which is apparently akin to trying to visit North Korea) at precisely the same time as an ancient free magic entity has awoken and begun to cause serious trouble.... with zombies. Naturally, everyone's stories overlap and things happen.

Oh yeah, and there is also a character called the Disreputable Dog.

Despite my terrible attempt to recount the plot (it does requires a lot of explaining), this is really a decent little book (and when I say little, I mean 700 pages). So how do I go from hating the first book to liking the second? Good question. Easy answer.

Garth Nix is simply a better writer this time around. He does a far better job of explaining important elements of his world in Lirael. My major complaint about Sabriel was the fact that Nix didn't take enough time to explain key concepts such as Free Magic, Charter Magic, Charter marks, the Abhorsen's bells and their relationship with each other. Not only does he cover these things in Lirael but he also fills us in on some of the pertinent history of the Old Kingdom. Furthermore, in Lirael, Nix elaborates on the hierarchical system of the Old Kingdom and how it works. He discusses the bloodlines of the royal family, the Abhorsens and the Clayr. This made for a far more enjoyable read.

Don't get me wrong, I still don't like fantasy, I still don't like magic and the end of this book was TERRIBLE but I found that Lirael has softened me a little on the genre. It has softened me enough to finish the series (due to the terrible ending I actually have no choice in that matter), and perhaps enough to delve a little deeper into the pool of fantasy novels.

But don't think for a second this will get me to crack Lord of the Rings. No sir... I won't do it again.


Amber said...

Well...I'm glad you liked Lirael at least. I adored this series when I was a kid and purchased the books again last Fall because I want to reread them now that I'm a little older.

I won't lie, I'm slightly hesistant to read your review of Sabriel, but I know I will because I'm curious and I think it could be funny.

It's weird, I'm not well-versed in Fantasy to love it or hate it, I just know that I have relatively good reading experiences with the genre...I suppose I should raid your archives to see why you don't.

Yeah, LOTR isn't for everyone. There's a copy of The Hobbit just hanging out on my bookshelf...I'll get to it one day.

I hope your shipment has some gems.

Juli Rahel said...

Authors do sometimes improve from one book to the next! I think it's only recommendable to try out a genre you don't really like and I often feel ashamed when liking a YA novel after repeatedly bashing the genre! I do personally love fantasy, but that's because my dad read it to me as a kid and installed a love for it in me nothing can undo, not even terrible reviews ;) Thanks for the review, I'm a new follower!
Juli @ Universe in Words

neal said...

Glad you liked it. I haven't actually finished the series either, though I recall vaguely enjoying the first two when I read them years ago. I think I'd like to try them out again, see how they stand up against the increasing prickliness of my taste.

Brian Joseph said...

I have read a fair amount of Fantasy especially when I was younger. I think that it can be a very fun, meaningful and deep genre. Of course there is an enormous amount of bad stuff out there. There is a special place in my hart for this kind of book as when I read your commentary in this work something sparks inside of me and I really want to re-enter the world of magic, wizards, etc. soon.

I actually think it unusual that second book in a series to be better then the first, but of course it does happen.

Jenny said...

Well, I tried to read the first one of these ages ago and just couldn't do it. I figure even if this one is better, if I can't make it through the first one, what's the point?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm interesting! I am a fantasy fan, but actually much preferred Sabriel to Lirael (at the time - I seem to remember finding Lirael quite frustrating...)... Anyway your blog has prompted me to think about re-reading them and discovering my current thoughts, as it was a while ago. Also looking forward to you reading the 2nd two books in 'His Dark Materials' - which is one of my favourites. (p.s. I came across your blog because I was looking for things comparing Sabriel and Game of Thrones)

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