Cover Clariel: A charter magic symbol superimposed over a skyline and city with a woman and a dragon

About the Book

Title: Clariel (Abhorsen #4)
Published: 2014

Cover Story: Symbolic
BFF Charm: Nay
Talky Talk: Snooze-y
Bonus Factor: Fantastical History
Relationship Status: Passersby

Note: This is the fourth book in the Abhorsen series, but it is technically a prequel, so reading it first won’t really spoil the main plot except provide some foreknowledge of the world-building. Regardless, I would recommend starting with Sabriel.

Cover Story: Symbolic

This is not as visually interesting as the original covers for the first three books; however, Clariel does spent a lot of time considering the use of Charter Magic in her life, so I guess a big, fiery Charter Mark in the sky makes some thematic sense?

The Deal:

Imagine you had a vision for your life; this one thing that was all you ever needed to make you happy. But before you could accomplish that dream, your parents move you really far away from it and tell you to give it up. That is the kind of shizz Clariel is dealing with when she, her brilliant but distant metal-working mom, and her spineless and ineffectual stay-at-home dad roll up to Belisaere (a place we’ve visited in past Abhorsen books, albeit six hundred years in the future). Clariel feels stifled and trapped, forced to participate in things like finishing school and keep a bodyguard with her at all times.

The only things Clariel longs for are solitude and to be back in the Great Forest, where she was born and raised—in the greenery is where she spent most of her days…(okay, I’m done. Sorry for the earworm). Her desire to run away and forget the claustrophobic streets of Belisaere cause her to make a deal that unwittingly places her in the middle of a tempestuous feud between the neglectful King and the guilds who’ve wrested control of the capital. There’s also unsettling rumors that a Free Magic creature is roaming the city, the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades, but despite this, the Abhorsen remains conspicuously absent. So what’s a girl to do? Follow her heart and escape, or follow her duty and fight?

BFF Charm: Nay

BFF Charm that says "denied"

Sorry, Clariel, but we’re never going to be friends. To be quite frank, I doubt you’d really care anyway. You definitely strike me as a loner, and you know what? You do you. I could deal without the barely concealed contempt you show for most people who don’t share your interests or are just trying to be friendly to you, but I guess I appreciate your determination to be your true self at all costs. Let no one ever say you hide your feelings behind a mask.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

Many people have praised this book for featuring an asexual character, and it certainly stands out in that regard from 98% of the other YA fantasy books out now. Clariel has been there, done that, and really wasn’t impressed. She’s made her peace knowing she will live out her days in solitude like her aunt Lemmin, more at home with nature than with people.

Nix also manages to poke some slight fun at dystopian romances when one character expresses interest in Clariel and she responds in disbelief:

“Think about the situation I’m in, will you! How could I be thinking about…about kissing and bed games with everything that’s happened…that is happening?”

Clearly she’s never been introduced to the notion of a high-stakes love triangle.

Talky Talk: Snooze-y

I have to be honest: This wasn’t my favorite book in this series. It took me a long time to lose myself in the story; the beginning was extremely slow and frequently put the action on pause to explain more about the social structure of the captial. I was more than halfway through before certain events took place that finally made me eager to see what would happen next.

Clariel as a character is so single-minded about going back to the Great Forest and becoming a hunter that most of her conversations and thoughts are iterations on this same theme. I contemplated making a drinking game where I took a shot every time she brought up going home or named the Great Forest or Estwael by name, but I feared for my liver. I don’t mind a person who has her sights set on a goal, but her rigidity made it hard to sympathize with her at times.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what this installment really brought to the larger story. Garth Nix said this book came about because he wanted to explore a villain’s origin tale, and while that could’ve made for a fascinating read, this unfortunately ended up being…sort of boring. I appreciate what the author was trying to do, but it missed the (Charter) mark for me.

Bonus Factor: Fantastical History

Close up of the spine of a very old leather book

Clariel is set hundreds of years before Sabriel begins, so it was great to see how the opinions and customs of their world evolved into the belief systems of our original trilogy characters. It was quite a contrast that performing Charter Magic was not en vogue, and the people who practiced it were mainly the servants and the lower-classes. I also enjoyed the peek into how the Abhorsens lived during Clariel’s time, with their large community and fancy airs. I had assumed the Abhorsen was always a solitary title, with just one family continuing the line, but that was not the case. 

Relationship Status: Passersby

I tried to get to know you, Book, but it seems you were more interested in your own pursuits than hanging out. You clearly have a lot to work through, but I don’t wish you ill, so if we pass on the street, I’ll give you a polite nod and we can go about our separate days.

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


Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.