Garth Nix's "Sabriel" is one of my all-time favorite books, and the trilogy it starts is, in my opinion, firmly in the pantheon of YA literature. "Clariel" is a long-awaited prequel, taking place several hundred years before the events of "Sabriel" and giving an origin story to a lesser villain in that series. I was a little disappointed by "Clariel;" it seemed a bit boring and one-dimensional. Clariel is a teenaged girl who wants only to be left alone to live in her beloved Great Forest, but her mother is the most skilled goldsmith in the Old Kingdom and the family moves to Belisaere, its capital, so she can play a more active role in the Guild. There, Clariel finds that the King has all but abdicated and Kilp, head of the Goldsmith's Guild and Governor of the city (and all around slimy guy) has taken control with the help of a Free Magic being. Clariel's all-consuming desire to get back to the Great Forest is in a tug of war against her sense of loyalty to her parents and worry that the kingdom is in grave danger. The former consistently wins out over the latter, making Clariel a rather uncomplicated figure, but then again maybe that's the point - villains are selfish creatures, and though they may sometimes rise above their base desires to do something truly good, their selfishness wins out in the end.
I would have liked to see more of the world-building that made "Sabriel" and "Lirael" so wonderful. It would have been interesting to learn more about the culture and history of berserks, since a major character in the original series also carries that genetic trait. All in all, I'm excited that Nix has returned to the Old Kingdom, and look forward to his next book (which continues the original series), but didn't like "Clariel" as much as I wanted to.