This second book in the series picks up quite a bit after the events of the first one: fourteen years, in fact. So while I usually try not to spoil plot points about previous books in my reviews, this time I don’t think I can avoid some minor spoilers. If you’re considering reading the series, you’d better avoid this review and check what I wrote about Sabriel instead.
The titular protagonist, Lirael, is one of the Clayr, the women who live on a far-off mountain and see the future in the ice. When the book opens, it’s Lirael’s fourteenth birthday and she still doesn’t have the Sight. That, along with the fact that she looks different from the other Clayr, makes her somewhat of an outcast. I’ll just say it: the book starts with Lirael contemplating suicide. It might seem inappropriate, in a book geared towards middle grade, but I get it. Not all protagonists can be plucky and fearless and dream of adventure and handsome princes; some protagonists are quiet and withdrawn and sometimes wonder what’s the point of it all. And if you look past the darker themes of the book, I think it would be a great read for kids because at its core it’s a story about finding yourself and your place in life.
So anyway. Lirael. Isa will be pleased to know that I loved Lirael to pieces. Not just because of her personality, but also because she ends up working in a magical library with mysterious rooms and dangerous creatures lurking around. She’s a battle librarian with a magical dog! And the Disreputable Dog (or Disreputable Bitch if you want to get technical) is an awesome character herself. I loved the first half of the book. My only complaint about it is that the library isn’t much of a library. There are mentions of books, but from the description it sounded more like a dungeon with one or two books lying around.
The second half of the book, unfortunately, was more of a drag because of Sameth. Sam is Sabriel’s son and the Abhorsen-in-waiting, and he alternates POVs with Lirael starting halfway through the book. He starts off interesting enough, holding his own against zombies in Ancelstierre, but then he becomes completely useless. He keeps whining about not wanting to be Abhorsen and not wanting to use the bells and not wanting to do this and not wanting to go there and in short he acts like a spoiled brat. It was a chore to get through his chapters. I liked seeing characters from the previous books, but I’d have preferred if the whole book was from Lirael’s POV, because Sam’s POV didn’t give me much that was relevant to the plot anyway.
Plot which, unfortunately, ends rather abruptly in the last chapter. While the first book was self-contained, this one reads more like an extended prologue for the third book. An enjoyable prologue, though! And I was very much relieved to see zero hints of romance in this book, just magic and adventure and lots of awesome.