I have a love/hate relationship with book series. On the one hand, they can be wonderful, a way to return to familiar places and faces and retreat into a home-away no matter where you are. On the other hand, they can be terrible, poorly constructed, poorly written, and they only reason to continue is a morbid fascination with what happens next (morbid not because of the subject matter, but because of the amount of murdered grey matter that results from sticking with a terrible book, much less a series). Some series are never-ending; think Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, or Game of Thrones, things that come to a close only with an author’s death (the only exception to this, of course, the mass of posthumously published work by Tolkien). Others are short; two to five books, and they are done. But sometimes the nicest surprise is finding out that years after you thought the story was done, the author decides to re-open the doors to that world.
Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series was one of my first forays into fantasy, sometime around middle school. I read Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen over and over again, and later picked up Across the Wall, a collection of varied short stories by Nix, including a novella set shortly after the events of Abhorsen. The world brought to life in this series is complex, where magic and death (and death brought back to life) are a part of everyday life. The characters are multi-faceted and undergo many different processes of growth, gain, and loss. It was something that was always a pleasure to return to, regardless of the darker, zombie-like features. But Sabriel was first published in 1995, and Across the Wall was first published in 2005, with the rumour and promise of a prequel soon to come. But by around 2010, with plenty of other Nix series in the works, such as The Keys to the Kingdom, I think most people gave up on ever seeing another Old Kingdom book.
Until 2014, that is, when Clariel FINALLY came out. The fourth novel in the series, the events of Clariel occur many years before those that begin in Sabriel, but with many tie-ins to the plots and characters of the original three books. I found that in Clariel, the lines that are very clearly drawn between right and wrong in the other books are now blurred. Nix incorporates a plot twist that I don’t think anyone could have anticipated. As a result, the book also forces the reader to re-examine a dichotomy that was originally taken for granted, and reinforces a prominent recurring theme: “Does the walker choose the path, or the path choose the walker.”
Even better than finally seeing another side of the Old Kingdom and certain characters? The author’s note at the end of the book confirming not only who Clariel becomes, but also that the series will be continuing… So head to the library or your local bookshop and get into this series before there are too many books to catch up with. And Mr. Nix, PLEASE don’t make me wait close to 10 years for the next one.
Until next time….