The sequel to Lirael is much more fast-paced: in fact, the book is largely a race. Like all good quest stories, the heroes have to get somewhere, and they have to get there in a pounding hurry: this time it’s to rescue Sameth’s friend Nick, now possessed by the Destroyer, and stop the necromancer Hedge from digging up and reuniting the spheres into which the Destroyer was bound when the Charter was forged.
It’s a good story. There’s a lot of Cosmic Way Back When stuff that is actually pretty evocative. Sameth gets to prove himself; though I would have liked to see a more definite confrontation between him and his fears, it was still good to see him growing up and finding his destiny (yes, he has one too). Lirael also explores her powers, and in a really wonderful set-piece she journeys all the way through Death, down to the edge of the Ninth Gate, so that she can use her powers as Remembrancer to see how the Destroyer was originally bound. In the second half of the book, Nick becomes an important and deeply moving character as he fights against the control of Hedge and the Destroyer. There’s more action around the border, which I loved (one minor character was somewhat annoying, but it wasn’t too bad). And the showdown was pretty impressive: by using an unexpected form for the manifestation of the Destroyer, Nix made him far more chilling than the usual run of dark lords; the element that tipped the balance of the confrontation was unexpected but very appropriate; and somebody did have to give the last full measure. Plus, there were also a few bits of real humor:
“That is only the fourth-most stupid plan I have ever heard from an Abhorsen,” replied Mogget. “I like the bit about sleeping for a while, though you neglected to mention dinner.”
I was not annoyed with Lirael in this book as I was in the previous one, partly because Sameth isn’t providing such a stark contrast (his situation has looked up), and partly because Lirael does face some real risks. I was, however, unable to believe that she mastered the bells so quickly. She reads The Book of the Dead once–maybe twice; she doesn’t have any more time than that–and suddenly she’s wielding the bells perfectly. What, is there some kind of Abhorsen genetic knowledge that Nix forgot to mention? You can’t just read the manual and expect to play perfectly on ordinary musical instrument at once; mastering some of the most powerful and arcane magic in the world should be just a bit harder.
My one real problem with the book, in fact, stemmed from the Disreputable Dog, a character whom I like but don’t find quite as charming as I think the author intended. In this book she falls prey to the disease of Wise Mentor characters: needlessly delaying the exposition. Near the beginning of the book, when Lirael and Sameth don’t yet know what Hedge is doing, the Dog says: “I will tell you more when needs must. I do not wish to fill your bones with fear, or tell ancient tales for no purpose. There are still several possible explanations and ancient safeguards that might yet hold even if the worst is true. But we must hurry!”
Bah. Humbug. Hasn’t the Dog ever heard about “Better safe than sorry”? Sameth and Lirael are both already pretty filled with fear, and anything that even remotely prepares them for any possibility is not to no purpose. What the Dog really means is, “I’m going to put off explaining things until halfway through the book because that will build suspense.” Unfortunately, it’s hardly realistic; and surely there would be just as much tension in watching the characters desperately hope and try to convince themselves that they were in anything other than a worst-case scenario.
Morally, the book is fine. There’s the standard self-sacrifice and heroism; there are also some needless kindnesses that rebound to unexpected benefit, which I really liked. Like the previous book, I think that though some may be uncomfortable with the binding of spirits and excursions into death, the world is largely foreign rather than bad. Lirael wields her powers to defend life and stop necromancers from raising the dead, so I think it isn’t objectionable. Content-wise, there isn’t any sex and the violence isn’t that bad, but a large quantity of walking dead makes this book unsuitable for the very young.