I’ll be honest with you: Lirael is over 500 pages of largely non-action, worldbuilding, and characters who make terrible mistakes and have to overcome them largely by their own fortitude. But the difference between Lirael and other books with little action driving the plot is that Nix is consistent with his characters. He doesn’t tell you one thing and show you another. He never pulls any punches. He’s a writer you can trust to tell the story honestly and not try to force you into loving his characters by making them badass damsels in distress. Sure, some people will hate Sameth for not being a carbon copy of this father, Touchstone. And some will hate Lirael for being so unhappy with her life and being so different from Sabriel.
But Lirael (book) is not a carbon copy of Sabriel (book) and so the characters won’t be, either.
Lirael may be more of a Sunday drive than the wild Friday night out Sabriel was. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you could count Sabriel as a stand alone, or you could skip Sabriel and jump into reading Lirael and Abhorsen without missing much.
And yes, the plot largely consists of Lirael exploring the fabulous library of the Clayr whilst feeling sorry for herself because she feels like her lack of future Sight means she doesn’t fit in, and then it’s ROAD TRIP time to meet up with Sameth, the PTSD suffering Abhorsen-in-Waiting who’s terrified of the Dead.
But the thing is, this book doesn’t have to be anything other than a set up for the next book, Abhorsen, because originally it was a nearly 1000 page book including Abhorsen. And while I generally despise it when authors chop their stories in half to create another book purely for profit, I believe in Nix’s integrity as an author and Lirael (and yes, probably even Sam, although he’s not as interesting) as a character whose story we want to see through to the end. Lirael and Abhorsen are one complete story in two books in the same way Lord of the Rings is one complete story chopped into three books, not necessarily a series but Part 1 and Part 2 of the same narrative.
And when you think about it, the somewhat quiet plot largely revolves around Lirael’s desire to belong and Sameth’s desire to be free of everyone’s expectations of him, and when you approach it that way, it really does wrap up the entire narrative rather neatly despite there still being half a dozen actionable goals to achieve. Lirael and Sameth’s own stories have come full-circle and revealed new destinies that will be explored in the next book.
I think that’s the difference between when other authors chop their long books in half and try to sell them as parts of a series. Lirael and Sameth actually do have a beginning, middle and end, and they grow and change as characters achieving their true desires by overcoming appropriate challenges.
Also, the addition of the Disreputable Dog and the reappearance of the fabulously caustic Mogget, not to mention seeing them sniping at each other as not-quite-enemies, makes this book a fun journey to share with Lirael and Sameth as they continue down that path – you know the one – does the walker choose the path or the path the walker?