(Old Kingdom, Book Two)
By Garth Nix
Format: Audio Book
Narrator: The infamous Tim Curry again
Length: 14 hours & 45 minutes
Genres: Fiction, Young-adult, Fantasy, Adventure, Magic
Take a Peek: Audible | Overdrive | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Rating: 4 Stars
The saga continues! I had some serious doubts going into this sequel since the beginning of Sabriel was such a freaking bore. But once again, the promise of Mogget and Tim Curry made me take the dive and I’m happy I did. So far this Old Kingdom series hasn’t been pulse-racingly thrilling, but it’s a fun adventure with talking animals. That’s all I really need.
*For some reason, this summary is super long. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Feel free to skip my rantings and head straight to the review on the bottom. I promise not to be offended.*
The prologue opens with a mysterious man named Hedge carrying the bells of an Abhorsen, instantly making the reader question where in the Old Kingdom timeline this is taking place. Last we heard, Sabriel—the new Abhorsen—was definitely female. Is this far in the future, or far in the past? He begins speaking with another powerful sorceress named Chlorr and it becomes obvious that they are followers of Kerrigor, the evil-being Sabriel defeated in the first novel. Hedge makes Chlorr his new servant and apparently these two goons are the new evil dream team.
This book is broken up into four parts, the first taking place 14 years after the ending of Sabriel. We see a girl named Lirael, who’s turning 14 and hates birthdays. They’re just a reminder of everything she doesn’t have. She’s a member of the Clayr, a group of mostly women infamous for their ability to see into the future, and Lirael has waited her whole life to get the Sight without success. Plus, her whole aesthetic is the complete opposite of a normal Clayr who are tan skinned with blonde hair, while Lirael is pale and dark featured. Now she is alone, her father’s identity a mystery and her mother long gone, with only an abrasive aunt as family. She is an outcast in every way—no easy thing for a 14 year-old—and goes to great lengths to push people away so she can’t get hurt.
After an abysmal birthday morning, Lirael spends most of chapter two listing all the benefits of suicide and plotting how to do it. In the end she settles for jumping off a cliff. You know, casual. The Clayr’s home is already set in the mountains and they have a paper plane hanger that would be perfect to throw one’s self from, so Lirael sets off. She arrives after a long hike and immediately hides, waiting for the guards to get lost to make her final move. As she waits, a paper plane comes gliding in and we finally see Sabriel and King Touchstone. They’ve come to visit the Clayr hoping for a vision that could help their current quest. Hedge is purposely causing problems as a distraction, though they don’t know this yet—only see the effects of his actions. The older Clayr deny having any related visions, and the now married couple set off again, but not before Sabriel spots Lirael hiding in the snow. Once the two are gone, the older Clayr demand to know what Lirael is doing and she breaks down. Without giving away her plan for suicide, she admits how miserable she’s been and how worried she is about not gaining the Sight yet. For some reason, the Clayr women are shocked and ask if it would help to have a job to take her mind off things. Um, duh. Lirael is overjoyed and accepts a position in the library, making you wonder why no one offered this to the poor thing earlier.
Contrastingly, fast forward four years and Prince Sameth is busy being a wholesome, trouble-free teen playing cricket with his cricket team. On the way home from a game, they belatedly realize that the driver has been going the wrong way and leading them straight into a trap. There’s a whole lot of zombies coming and Sam demonstrates his prowess as a leader, which is important because you’ll want to slap him in the coming chapters. Recognizing that the undead are being controlled by another necromancer, Sam decides to go into death to find them. On the other side, he sees Hedge who immediately tries to cast a control spell. It’s obvious that this entire plot was a grand scheme to get to Sam specifically and he just manages to thwart Hedge with some pretty kick ass moves. Sam goes back to reality barely making it out alive, with Hedge following close behind, determined to get control of the prince. For an awful moment it appears that Hedge succeeds, embedding something evil in his opponent’s heart, but we learn that he mistakenly hit Sam’s friend Nicholas instead. Nick is now unknowingly the host of an awful spirit that the creepy Hedge is trying to please. It’s all very Harry Potter, Professor Quirrell-esque.
The cricket team narrowly escapes and they all go home, unaware that the danger has just begun.
While Sam recovers from the attack physically, he still suffers from post-traumatic stress and has become paralyzingly afraid of death (the place, not death death)—not too convenient for the Abhorsen-in-waiting. For a long while we follow Sam while he mopes about the castle, wondering how to tell his mother he doesn’t wish to be the next Abhorsen. We also see him get bossed around by his insensitive older sister Ellimere, which is apparently suppose to show us that she’ll be a great Queen someday. Just as the two royal siblings get word from their parents that things in the kingdom have gone from bad to worse, Sam receives a letter from Nick saying he’s coming to visit. This would be good news, but Nick didn’t want to bother Sam to come pick him up, so he decided to hire a random guide instead. It’s so obvious this “guide” is Hedge that even Sam sees how sketchy the situation is and decides to sneak out of the castle to go save his friend.
The now 18 year-old Lirael, on the other hand, is having a grand time working at the library by day and exploring it’s hidden rooms at night. She’s very gifted with charter magic and uses it to sneak around after hours. During one of these excursions she accidentally unleashes a freaky praying mantis monster and in the chaos, finds a little dog figurine. Once she manages to get away safely, she casts a spell to bring the dog figurine to life and OH MY GOD THERE’S A TALKING DOG NOW. Sassy Tim Curry dog is just as amazing as sassy Tim Curry cat and ALL MY DREAMS HAVE COME TRUE. Together they team up to defeat the scary praying mantis and explore the library in more depth, eventually finding the secrets of Lirael’s past hidden in one of the old rooms. The elder women of the Clayr help her find some answers and confess they’ve seen Lirael in a vision helping a sick young man.
They send her on a quest to find him, where she sails—quite literally—into Prince Sameth and they discover they’re looking for the same person. Both Lirael and Sam join forces to save Nick and *crosses fingers* defeat Hedge. In the end, we’re left on a cliffy and have to read book three to find out what happens.
My main gurl Lirael is awesome and I really loved the parts told from her perspective. Even when she was having a major pity-party at the beginning, on the verge of throwing herself off a cliff, she was still relatable. What person hasn’t felt like an outcast at some point during their life? Plus, the Clayr seemed so oblivious to her plight that it really made me feel for Lirael. Once she gets the job in the library, though, she becomes a magical bad ass and it was amazing to watch her grow as a character.
Plus, let’s not forget Lirael’s bff, the TALKING DOG. Mogget the cat really saved me during the first novel and the Disreputable Dog (I’m calling her DD for short—that name is way too long.) saved me during this one. It’s kind of poetic. I’m really hoping this is a theme that runs throughout the series and we’ll just get more and more talking animals. Talking dragon. Talking horse. Talking bird. Talking fish. The possibilities are endless. When Mogget and DD finally met and bantered together towards the end it made the whole book for me.
I also think Garth Nix did a good job in the way he arranged the plot, and it really made everything more exciting. The way he switches perspectives between the two characters is great, and it helped build a lot of excitement for when Sam and Lirael finally meet. At the end of Sabriel, there was a time crunch and a sense of urgency that this book was lacking since it cuts off before the main confrontation. Breaking it up into different parts and characters was a good way to compensate for that.
And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Tim Curry makes this audiobook worth listening to. He has the best voice and does an amazing job acting out the story. I have already mentally added “animal voices” to the list of reason why I love Tim Curry so much.
By the end, Sam is not my favorite person. It’s odd because I started off really loving him after that whole cricket team battle, but my opinion just got progressively worse and worse as the story went on. When he goes into death to hunt for Hedge, some horrible things happen and it’s completely understandable that this would freak him out. I never blamed him for the post-traumatic stress, and even felt for the guy when he went back home and had to deal with his awful sister without any help from his parents. After a while though, his whining starts to get old and by the end I wanted to kick him. My new literary best friend Lirael is making plans to go save Nick, and Sam says he wants to stay back and let her go without him. What?!? Are you kidding me right now? After everything you’ve been through and the countless times she’s saved your sorry butt, you’re just going to let Lirael rescue Nicholas (who’s your friend to begin with, by the way) alone? UGH. GTFO. I think part of the problem is that the book cuts off and we only see half of Sam’s character transformation, but that doesn’t make it any less infuriating.
Plus, I can’t lie, parts of this book were a little boring for me. Particularly Sam’s sections that depict him depressingly roaming about the castle and dancing terribly as a bird. I loved Lirael so much that I found myself anxiously awaiting her parts and not paying too much attention to his. It was nowhere near as dull as the first one, but still a little on the subdued side nonetheless.
This was really fun to listen to and definitely a better overall book than the first one. How often does that happen? If you liked the ending of Sabriel and loved the characters, this is definitely worth reading. All of the good ones come back and I really enjoyed seeing the story continue. On to the third!
And again, do yourself a solid and LISTEN TO THE AUDIOBOOK.