Four stars, read from November 2014 to January 2015.
Before reading Sabriel I don’t think I’d have been able to imagine how a story could be both action-packed and incredibly slow at the same time, and I honestly don’t know if that’s the book itself or just me. I found it fascinating already from the prologue, and the action starts very early on, but the severe lack of dialogue for the first 250 pages just made me feel like things were taking forever. The first half of the book took me three weeks; the last half took me a few hours.
That aside, though, I ended up really loving it. I checked out the sequel within five minutes of finishing (reading on my break at work FTW). Excellent world-building, excellent protagonist, excellent cast of supporting characters. After finishing it, I really looked forward to the rest of this series.
Not that there isn’t plenty about death, etc. in the first book, but Lirael is significantly (and surprisingly) darker than its predecessor. It takes place in the same world some years later, starring different characters, and the violence is more traumatic because of the way the protagonists respond to it. Neither Lirael nor Sameth is as mentally tough as Sabriel was, and there’s a lot more internal struggle with things like depression and suicide. It’s very interesting, and I liked the way it was handled.
The writing in the third book is less subtle than in Sabriel and Lirael, lots of things stated that didn’t need to be, with kind of repetitive narration at times. On the other hand, I was surprised more than once by some really great descriptions.
As they climbed, Lirael came to understand that the cliff was not, as she had thought, a single almost vertical face of rough stone. It was actually composed of hundreds of faces of slipped rock, as if a sheaf of paper had been propped up and then many individual pages had slipped down.
I found the constant switches of perspective a little disorienting. The narrator is omniscient but focuses specifically on one character at a time, and sometimes when it changes to a new character you’ll realize it’s gone back in time a few seconds, so that what you’re reading is happening simultaneously with what you just read before—but without any of those mid-page breaks that are usually used for that purpose. In any case, though, the action is compelling and I felt an attachment to the characters that makes me disappointed to think the next book might not be about the same people. I’m glad there’s more to read.
On the whole, this is an outstanding fantasy series for more than one reason. The story is engaging and exciting, both in plot and in world-building. There are different protagonists in each book, but they all carry the story well and are easy to care about. Of the four main characters, three are strong, smart young women. If you’re looking for something great to read, particularly if you’re into fantasy and powerful female characters, this is a series well worth your time.