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Vision Quest

Before reading the latest installment of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series in October, re-introduce yourself to Lirael, a book about a young girl with mysterious connections to magic and the Dead.

Vision Quest

BOOK REPORT for Lirael (Abhorsen #2) by Garth Nix

Cover Story: Accurate
BFF Charm: Eventually and Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 1
Talky Talk: Adept
Bonus Factors: Sassy Animals, Badass Libraries, Magical Help
Relationship Status: Traveling Companions

Cover Story: Accurate

This cover got this scene so right. We have Lirael looking just as she’s described in the book, the Disreputable Dog hanging out in the corner, even the Charter Magic wafting around in the air. I kind of love that moment when you get to that spot in the story and can close the book to look at the cover and go, “Ah-ha!”

The Deal:

Careful, Sweetie: spoilers! This is the second book in the Abhorsen series, so if you haven’t read the previous one, you should probably hop back in the TARDIS and go curl up with the first book in the library by the pool before continuing.

Our return to the magical world of the Old Kingdom comes about fourteen years after Sabriel ends. Following the defeat of the evil-dead Kerrigor, Sabriel and Touchstone have become the Abhorsen-Queen and King Touchstone I, respectively, and they’ve spent much of their time ruling trying to get their land back to the way it was before the Great Charters were broken. Despite their vigilance, there is a strange, ominous wind stirring in a remote corner of the Kingdom, where even the Clayr (the Seers who live in a glacier far to the North) can’t See properly.

We first meet Lirael on the morning of her fourteenth birthday, in a terrible mood. As a child of the Clayr, Lirael should’ve received her Sight years ago, and every birthday that comes and goes just reminds her that she may never be a true member of the group she lives with. She decides that fourteen more than enough time to have experienced all of life, but before she can fling herself dramatically off the mountain’s edge, she stumbles into a secret meeting of the Clayr. Suddenly she’s offered a slightly more practical alternative to suicide: find a permanent work placement while waiting for her Sight to arrive. As a lady after our own hearts, Lirael immediately chooses a role as Third Assistant Librarian (get it, girl).

Prince Sameth is following in his Abhorsen mother’s footsteps—not only as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, but also by attending a boarding school in Ancelstierre, the non-magical area bordering the Old Kingdom. While on his bus ride back to school, Sam and his cricket-playing teammates are ambushed by Dead Hands, denizens from Death controlled by a Free Magic necromancer. Sam bravely enters Death in order to save his friends and put a stop to the necromancer, but winds up getting his butt handed to him. Now Sam’s got a shameful secret he can never say out loud, especially to Sabriel: He’s terrified of Death and would happily never go back into the underworld again.

BFF Charm: Eventually and Yay

At the beginning of the book, Lirael isn’t really in the headspace to be a good friend. She needs one, but she is too stuck in her own troubles to reciprocate, and while I can be a very sympathetic listener, even I only have so much patience. Thankfully, as Lirael gets older, she becomes less self-absorbed as she expands her hobbies from navel-gazing and lamenting to adventuring and magic. I think we would get along quite well at that point as two people who enjoy similar interests: libraries, quiet time, and talking dogs.

Sam, by virtue of his birthright and his proximity to people with more well-rounded interests (take note, ladies of the Clayr: I know you’ve got a job to do, but people with a single purpose can be a bit boring. Maybe learn to knit?), has mastered his friendship skillz more quickly than Lirael. His overwhelming fears make him a bit selfish during parts of the novel, but his concern for his school friend, Nicholas, (who is undertaking the dangerous journey from Ancelstierre to the Old Kingdom to visit him) is always one of Sam's top priorities.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Lirael spends much of her time alone or in the company of the Disreputable Dog, plus she lives with the Clayr, which is predominantly made up of women. She could take a lover from amongst the traders and travelers who pass through the Clayr's domain (as most of them do), but Lirael is so wrapped up in her own perceived shortcomings and her Charter magic mastery that men are the least of her worries.

Meanwhile, in the capital, Prince Sameth's sister, Ellimere, is constantly trying to fix him up, but he's also preoccupied with his own issues—namely, how to prevent himself from peeing his pants every time he looks at the Book of the Dead and his Abhorsen bells. Not exactly what one looks for in their future boyfriend.

Talky Talk: Adept

Sometimes when the next book in a series focuses on completely different characters, I get grumpy. I already had friends I liked, thankyouverymuch. But, lucky for us, Lirael and Sam are welcome additions to the Abhorsen world. Through their eyes Nix shows us more of the Old Kingdom as it currently looks in a way that Sabriel and Touchstone weren't able to (being that she lived most of her life away from it and he spent the last 200 years as a wooden figurehead).

What we find is a richly layered world where fantasy and 'real life' meet in an interesting mash-up, and where some topics feel strangely relevant to today's real-life world issues, despite this book being written in the early 2000s. On the non-magical side of the wall, war between the Southern countries is forcing Southerling refugees to flee to Ancelstierre, but its politicians are not happy about this. Their solution is to sequester the refugees in shabby tent camps until they can sneakily shove them over the magical border to the Old Kingdom with promises of a 'better life' and land to settle, despite protests from Sabriel and Touchstone that intruders are often killed by magical things and reanimated into the un-living dead. But it's toootally a win-win for everyone, right?

Bonus Factor: Sassy Animals

The Disreputable Dog is a welcome addition, giving Lirael a confidante and adventuring pal. She also brings some much needed levity with her silliness and droll nature, which is at odds with her seemingly powerful and mysterious origin. I didn’t have a dog when I first read this book, so re-reading it this time around has made me appreciate her little quirks even more—like the uncanny ability to doggie-French you through your closed lips when you least expect it (maybe I should’ve raised the Swoonworthy rating).

And despite Mogget still being a straight-up asshole, I adore him. The miniature bell, Ranna, that keeps his Free Magic inner-killer contained forces him to take long cat-naps when it rings, but he always wakes long enough to spout off some truth-bombs and take pleasure in being the smartest person thing in the room. This exchange basically sums up Mogget’s favorite thing to do:

“[…] I’m sure whatever we face won’t be as bad as you think.”

“It will probably be worse,” Mogget said cheerfully. He seemed to be enjoying Sam’s humiliation.

Never change, Mogget.

Bonus Factor: Badass Libraries

The library that Lirael works in has multiple floors going deep inside the mountain and is more of a library cum museum cum prison for dangerous magical creatures. In short, it sounds freakin’ awesome. To encapsulate the essence of Lirael's job as a Third Assistant Librarian, you should know that her uniform comes with a whistle (strategically placed so you can blow it even if your arms are restrained) and a mechanized mouse that activates with a spoken spell to fetch help. It’s more perilous than your county library, but the awesome books and amazing magical artifacts definitely outweigh the risks to your person.

Bonus Factor: Magical Help

Shout out to the creatures entirely composed of Charter Magic that take care of the cleaning, cooking, protecting, and library re-shelving and still have time to silently judge our main characters. Being versed in Charter magic, Lirael has an affinity for these silent helpers, and I shared in her fascination with how they were created.

Casting Call:

Violet Parr from The Incredibles as Lirael

No joke, I kept picturing the younger, emo version of Lirael as this cartoon character, especially with the long, black hair in her face. I tried to find a real-life counterpart that fit, but my Google-fu skills came up short.

Tom Holland as Prince Sameth

He has the mop of hair (though it could be a tad darker to be closer to Sabriel’s black hair) and the fresh-faced look I picture on Sam.

Relationship Status: Traveling Companions

This book took me on a journey, but we're not finished yet. I plan on traveling its way for quite a while, and, luckily, this book seems to know all the scary places to avoid and the best place to gather firewood for the night. The road always feels less alone when you've got a friend by your side.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Lirael is available now.

Stephanie Johnston's photo About the Author: Stephanie is an avid reader who moonlights as a college Educational Advisor. Though she now calls Orlando home, she grew up all over the U.S. Aside from her obsession with YA books and book-related activities, Stephanie loves watching way too much television, reading organizational/DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.