Aug 16, 11
Read in August, 2011
This book has prompted me to write an alternate ending as part of my review. If you've read Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, it might be funny. If not, it might still highlight some of the problems I had with this book.
As the Seven progressed up the hill into the chaos of ultimate destruction, they were surprised to feel the fire and wind die away. Instead of a pillar of smoking darkness, Lirael saw a red-haired man sitting quietly on a rock, a bundle tied to a stick thrown carelessly over his shoulder. Though he was clad in the simple shirt and trousers of Ancelstierre, Lirael thought he looked like one of the great warriors of old.
When he saw Lirael, he gave a booming laugh. “Come here, girl. You don’t need to look like it’s the end of the world. I’m not here for that.”
Clutching Astarael, Lirael advanced slowly. Mouth almost too dry to speak, she whispered, “Excuse me, Sir. Are you Orannis? The Destroyer?”
“Aye, I’ve heard that name before,” he man replied merrily. “I’ve had others too, in my time, but that doesn’t matter. Better than the Black Sheep, anyway.”
“But aren’t you,” she made a futile gesture to the blasted land and the hordes of dead (who in their presence seemed to be falling into their natural state of decay), “Aren’t you going to destroy everything?”
The man let out another booming laugh, louder than before, and spread his arms wide as if to embrace the whole world. “Why, destruction’s a part of life, girl! No matter what self-righteous mages or two-penny necromancers do, it’s going on all around you all the time. Where would the new be, if you couldn’t get rid of the old?
“This is a good world,” he reflected. “You know you’ve got to let things take their course.” He got up and walked over to Lirael, gently touching the bell she still clasped in her trembling fingers.
“My sister’s got something like this. Come to think of it, you remind me a little of her. Makes me think you know what I’m getting at.”
“Yes,” said Lirael. “I think I do.”
“Good girl. I wouldn’t fret about raining fire and explosions and all that. That will come in its own time, and I won’t be overseeing it. Take my advice. Even while they bound me, I knew it would work out eventually. Optimism and entropy. Two most powerful forces in the universe.”
He turned to leave, pursuing his own solitary way through their world and indeed all the worlds. But he turned back one last time to call to Lirael,
“When you see my sister, tell her Hi from her brother, won’t you? She’ll get my meaning.”
Lirael had no idea who his sister was, or how she would recognize her even if she was lucky enough to run into her.
“Who is she?”
“Well,” he called over his shoulder, “I guess your lot would call her the Abhorsen.”
And that was the last anyone saw of him. In that world.
Now for the actual review.
"Abhorsen" was built up as the big conclusion to an epic fantasy series. And now that I look back on the plot, it does some of the things a concluding installment should. It starts in relative safety, continues with a strange encounter that reveals some important clues, has a rescue mission, gives sudden reveals of character identity, and then shows all the characters gathering together for the final showdown. There's even a journey into death.
What was actually going through my mind while reading was, "Arghhhh, when is this thing going to END?" Instead of having a nice plot arc like "Sabriel," "Abhorsen" just felt like two-hundred pages of the characters running around like chickens with their heads cut off because "the spheres are joining!" (which they've been doing for the last fifty pages but no one has managed to do anything about.)
With "Lirael", I had a lot to complain about (especially with Sam's character), but "Abhorsen" just feels like a void. I'll probably forget most of the plot within a month, only remembering a blur of mindless action sequences.
The characters just fall flat in this book. While Sam and Lirael are both more competent than in the last book, they don't seem to be there at all. They cast spells and kill zombies. When people die, they feel sad until they realize they've still got crap to wade through and can't spend time on dealing with emotional issues. Which is true, but maybe Nix should have given them more time to be weak. I felt like all the personality was coming from Mogget and the Disreputable dog. But finding out who those two were at the end really didn't come as a surprise--I had sort of mixed up the nine and the seven, and the names of the bells at that point and only wondered, "Wait, who was this being supposed to be again?"
And of course the villain turns out to be the ultimate of lazy writing. Practically makes Voldemort an original look into evil. Besides, a force that's made to destroy everything isn't really evil at all--it's just performing it's function. Probably necessary to the balance of the universe. (Something Gaiman got right.)Also, do any of these "destroy everything" villains ever figure out that if they blow up the universe, they're going to go with it?
At so many points I kept writing down, "LOTR reference, Gandalf reference, Harry Potter reference," until the story had no meaning in itself anymore. And so this book fails. Instead of searching for deeper meaning and giving satisfying character arcs, this book sets up a big meanie and defeats it. Lirael sums up my feelings well when she says of a lesser minion, "It's not really scary. It's just annoying." The hordes of undead abominations sucking the life out of the living here aren't the zombies. They're the cliches.