From the back of the book:
Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilip. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.
With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her - and it is herself she must question most of all.
I've been waiting for another novel set in the world of the Old Kingdom for a long time now, and, despite having moments that brought back the enjoyment of LIRAEL and SABRIEL, the long ago prequel to SABRIEL doesn't quite live up to expectations.
CLARIEL leans heavily towards the YA styling's of Garth Nix's other fantasy series targeted at that demographic. The toned down storytelling is evident, as is the teenage angst and constant reference to love despite Clariel's predicament (even though she shows no interest in her male suitors, it's a constant theme throughout).
Clariel, sees her family decimated before her eyes, travers the Old Kingdom in search of the Abhorsens for sanctuary from the threat of the Belisaere governor. Here, readers of the series are treated with a familiar character and further elements of Free Magic as Clariel slowly builds towards realising her path and takes the first tentative steps towards justice for her slain family.
I really liked the last third of CLARIE. It had everything I'd come to love from the Old Kingdom trilogy before it (mages, free and charter magic, bells), yet the set up is what let CLARIEL down.