If you haven't read the series yet, head to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of Sabriel. I really do think that it is better to start with there than with the prequel, although Clariel could stand on its own. But what makes Clariel truly wonderful is how it expands the world that Nix has created and it will be best appreciated once you already have explored the Old Kingdom. This is a fantasy series and while I am partial to that genre, it is because of the strong female leads that I return to the books over and over. They may be trying to thwart Free Magic sorcerers who are raising armies of the dead, but Sabriel, Lirael, and Clariel are all struggling to find their place in the world and that is something anyone can relate to.
Reading Clariel was a slightly different experience for me than reading the other books because I knew how it was going to end. When I first started it was really only wishful thinking that Nix would be telling the story I wanted to hear and I hadn't considered how that story would affect me as a reader. I knew (or rather thought I knew) that things were not going to end well, but the more I read and became attached the character of Clariel, the more I hoped I was wrong. It was a strange turnabout for me because I really wanted to understand this part of the Old Kingdom history, but it was devastating to see Clariel struggle and to know who she would eventually turn into. Especially in fantasy novels it is easy to get caught up in the dichotomy of good and evil, however in Clariel we are forced to come to terms with the grey area. Villains do not have to be born as such and even the best of intentions can send someone down a dangerous path.
Sabriel introduces us to the Old Kingdom and the Abhorsens, Lirael shifts northward so we can learn about the Clayr, and Abhorsen furthers our knowledge about Charter Magic and the Beginning. Each subsequent book adds to our overall understanding, but still fits in seamlessly with what came before. Since Clariel is set six hundred years before Sabriel, it offers readers the chance to see what the Old Kingdom was like before the more recent crises that marred the landscape. This is a series that any fantasy enthusiast should have and the prequel is a wonderful addition to the collection. I would have posted a review right after I got the book (on release day!), but instead of writing the blog post I decided the read Clariel a second time through. According to the Author's Note, Garth Nix is working on another novel in the Old Kingdom series and I am absolutely thrilled.