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In this action-packed epic fantasy, Clariel, displaying the typical disgruntled behavior of a young person, bristles at her family’s move to the city of Belisaere. Back in the Great Forest that surrounded bucolic Estwael, Clariel has carved a solitary life perfect for her needs; she has learned hunting, studied plant lore from her Aunt and planned to become a Borderer, someone who patrolled the forests of the kingdom. Her mother Jaciel, a goldsmith of great renown and talent, moved the family to Belisaere to accept the invitation to join the High Guild of Goldsmiths in the city. Her father Harven, also a goldsmith but not as talented as Jaciel, supports his wife’s decision. Clariel has gotten used to the benign neglect, but is trying to find the quiet that she needs in the city.

However, this is not your typical bildungsroman of growth and discovery. Clariel clearly knows what she wants. She consistently pleads to go back to the Great Forest and be alone and away from the crowds of the city. However, Clariel is cognizant that her heritage as the granddaughter of the Abhorsen, and a close relation of the King, is a tool that can be used for ill or good, and strives to do what is right for her family. She is used by her parents in games of politics to gain entrance to visit the hermit king, by the Governor for his own ill gain, by the Charter Mages to protect the Kingdom.  However, when her life and that of her family come to serious harm, Clariel struggles with thoughts of revenge.

Not all good intentions lead to good solutions and so, in true young adult literature fashion, this book deals with irreparable choices. This book is the prequel to the books of the Abhorsen Trilogy, a young adult epic fantasy series filled with magic, class warfare and serious action sequences. Nix has created a world beloved for its darkness, its portrayal of morality not simply as a clear right and wrong, and its portrayal of mortality as an occupation.