I’ve got to be honest here – this one was a bit of a slog.
After how much I enjoyed Sabriel, how compelled I was to keep reading and finish to see what happened, Lirael was a bit of a let down.
It’s almost as if Nix sort of saw the failings of Sabriel (lack of solid character development before the plot goes racing off) and then overcorrected in the next book, because in Lirael there’s almost too much. We spend sooooo much time just kind of sitting with the characters before any serious motion begins to kick in with the plot that it gets tedious at points.
And that would be one thing if this was just a coming of age story for Lirael and the point was to just kind of follow along with her adventures in the library of the Clayr as she learns and grows. But that’s not the kind of book that it presents itself as. It’s established from the very start that there are major forces at work in the Old Kingdom. Major forces that hint not just at catastrophe, but possibly a full fledged apocalypse. With that kind of set up, all the time we then spend just kind of sitting with the characters starts to feel like it’s wasted. And as a reader, that got quite frustrating. Lirael struggles with her identity and the fact that she doesn’t fit in with the Clayr. Sam has a serious case of “I don’t want to take over the family business” and self-pity. And these characters just wrestle with these things over, and over, and over, and over again without any real evidence of significant change until about the last fifth of the book. On multiple occassions I found myself skimming whole pages and saying to myself, “Yes, yes, I know she’s still struggling now lets get to some plot movement.”
And that’s just it. Plot movement is ultimately what this book’s predecessor had (almost to excess) that was missing here, making it suffer from what I can only dub “set-up syndrome.” The entire novel seems like it’s nothing but set-up for something bigger to come in book three. Or at least as a reader, I hope that’s the case. It ends with a pretty big cliffhanger which does make you want to keep reading despite the slog that came before.
So here’s hoping Abhorsen does indeed pick up the pace, and manages to endear these characters to me a little bit more solidly so as to make the little struggles I had getting through this worth it.
In summary: This book has its moments, but ultimately ends up being not much beyond set up for the next novel – and that sometimes makes reading it feel like a chore.
Overall rating: 2.5/5
Would Recommend to: People who read Sabriel, and intend to read Abhorsen. I am really unsure about how this would stand on its own without the context of the trilogy.
See my review of Sabriel here