Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy – Sabriel (1995), Lirael (2001), and Abhorsen (2003) – is considered one of the classics of young adult fantasy. It was followed by several short stories set in the same world, most notably “The Creature in the Case” (2005), but Clariel is the first novel about the Old Kingdom in more than a decade. It’s a prequel set 600 years before Sabriel, which helps to establish some of the background for the later books.
What was it like returning to the world of The Old Kingdom at novel length after so many years of writing other things? Had you always planned to write another novel set there?
I’ve enjoyed coming back to the Old Kingdom. Obviously I had to re-read not only my earlier novels and the two stories set in that world, but also go through many notes, and I had forgotten quite a few small details that I was pleased to rediscover, particularly when they fitted in with what I wanted to do in Clariel! I hadn’t always completely planned to write more books, but I thought I might; it is a rich and involved world with many story possibilities. Looking back I see that I did make a very early note about the potential for Clariel’s story.
One of the problems with writing a prequel, particularly one set 600 years prior to the main series, can involve giving the reader a sense that the tale is actually occurring in an earlier or at least a different time. Were you consciously doing this? If so, how?
I did consciously address this, in particular by making the Old Kingdom a very different place. In the later books, it is either a broken, dangerous land riddled with the Dead and Free Magic creatures, or in the process of being brought back to order. In Clariel, the Old Kingdom is completely peaceful, so much so that people have forgotten about the danger presented by Free Magic, the Dead and so on, and are much more concerned with making money than just staying alive. So the entire setting has a different “look and feel,” as it were, perhaps comparable with the difference between, say, ancient Rome at the height of Imperial power in 100 A.D. and 410 A.D., with the Empire broken and barbarians at the gates of Rome.
Clariel is a likable, if somewhat hot-headed protagonist, but she has a dark side that develops significantly during the course of the book. And, here we need a spoiler alert: she returns 600 years later, in the original series, as the evil Chlorr of the Mask. Was it difficult developing a protagonist who readers would like but who could believably “go bad”?
I hope that Clariel is not only likeable in general, but also identifiable, in the sense that we all have lurking within ourselves a person who might make bad choices if not kept under control. I think we all have had moments we can recognize as turning points, and the road to evil may well be driven down with good intentions but a poor sense of direction. I wanted Clariel to be someone who a reader could feel was basically a good person who for reasons both of her own choosing and exterior forces ends up being something she never would have deliberately chosen if she could have seen the consequences of all her actions.
Tell us about your next book. Is it a sequel to Clariel, a return to the time of the Old Kingdom trilogy, or something completely different? And is a sequel to Clariel in the offing?
I have two books out next year. The first is a story collection, To Hold the Bridge, which features an Old Kingdom novelette of that same title and various unrelated previously published stories; and a YA Regency romance with Magic called Newt’s Emerald. I am currently working on another Old Kingdom novel which is essentially a continuation of the original series – it picks up after the events of Abhorsen. But it also relates to Clariel in some ways.
Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix. Harper, $18.99 Oct. ISBN 978-0-06-156155-9