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Welcome back to the scintillatingly original fantasy world that Garth Nix introduced in Sabriel. Twenty years have passed since a young woman, educated in the neighboring, technological world of Ancelstierre, crossed the wall into the Old Kingdom and claimed her birthright as the Abhorsen. That means she is the heir of a bloodline, woven into the magical Charter that holds the Old Kingdom together, tasked with guarding the gates between Life and Death.
Now Sabriel is married to King Touchstone, and mother to a princess named Ellimere and a prince named Sameth, or Sam for short. She doesn’t get to spend much time with her family, though. Her duties require her to spend more and more time traveling around the Kingdom, battling the dead who try to return to Life, and the Necromancers who serve them. She hopes that her son Sam will follow in her footsteps, but she doesn’t realize how frightened he is of death especially after a nearly fatal confrontation with a Necromancer at the end of his last school term.
Sam is clearly not a coward, but whether he is really cut out to be the Abhorsen-in-waiting is not so clear. He dreads to touch the bandolier of bells that are the Abhorsens instruments for sending the dead back to Death. And he does not even dare to open the Book of the Dead, which he is supposed to have memorized by now. He would rather stay in his workshop and make tennis racquets and toys with a bit of magic woven into them.
Meanwhile, in the glacier that is home to the future-seeing Daughters of the Clayr, a young woman named Lirael grapples with her own, unclear destiny. She is well past the age when the Sight should have come to her, but it has not. She never shows up in the visions of the other Clayr, which is strange enough. She doesn’t even look like a Clayr, and at times her need to belong is so powerful that she considers suicide. What comfort Lirael finds comes from exploring the endless Library of the Clayr, with the aid of her unusually strong Charter magic and her secret companion, the Disreputable Dog.
Eventually, these lead Lirael to discover that she has a long lost gift. She is a Remembrancer, seeing the past as the Clayr see the future. Then, just when the Clayr finally see her in a vision of the future, Lirael is thrust out of the world she has known, into a perilous adventure that involves a school friend of Sams, a powerful Necromancer, and an army of the dead. All she knows is that, if she does not reach Nicholas Sayre in time, all life will be destroyed.
Not surprisingly, Lirael encounters Sam first. Together with the Disreputable Dog and the even more disreputable cat named Mogget, the two young people stand alone in the middle of a crisis for the Old Kingdom as well as Ancelstierre. But their adventure has scarcely begun when this novel ends, just when Lirael makes an amazing discovery about her true calling in life and Sams.
This sequel to Sabriel is either the middle, and longest, book of a trilogy, or the first part of a single story that was too long to fit in one book. It is continued in Abhorsen.