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. It seems, too, that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.
Sabriel has spent most of her young life far away from the magical realm of the Old Kingdom, and the Dead that roam it. But then a creature from across the Wall arrives at her all-girls boarding school with a message from her father, the Abhorsen - the magical protector of the realm whose task it is to bind and send back to Death those that won't stay Dead. Since the demise of the Royal Family the Dead have become stronger and more fearless, and now it seems their forces are threatening to overwhelm the Old Kingdom. Sabriel's father has been trapped in Death by a dangerous Free Magic creature. He urges her to return to her homeland, and to discover who or what is behind this uprising.
Lirael is no longer a shy Second Assistant Librarian. She is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, with dead creatures to battle and Free Magic entities to bind. She's also a Remembrancer, and wielder of the Dark Mirror.
When Lirael finds Nicholas Sayre lying unconscious after being attacked by a hideous Free Magic creature, she uses her powers to save him. But Nicholas is deeply tainted with Free magic and Lirael must seek help for him at her childhood home, the Clay
Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr, a powerful group of clairvoyant oracles responsible for assisting the Abhorsen and the Royal Family in keeping the Old Kingdom safe from the threat of the Dead. Not only does she look completely different to everyone else, she is long past the age that she should have received the Sight. She feels alone, abandoned, and utterly unsure of who she really is.
Meanwhile, across the Wall in Ancelstierre, Prince Sameth is equally lonely. He knows he has a great role to fulfil - he must one day take over as Abhorsen from his mother, Sabriel - but the prospect horrifies him. He fears the Dead, and after a terrifying incident with a rogue Necromancer, he is mortally afraid of his own destiny.
Besieged on all sides, Lirael, Sameth and the Disreputable Dog are in for the fight of their lives. Chlorr of the Mask, under the control of the enormously powerful Necromancer Hedge, is determined to free Orannis the Destroyer - the greatest and most powerful Free Magic creature in the history of the Old Kingdom.
Only Lirael, newly come into her inheritance as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and only just beginning to understand her powers as a Remembrancer, has any chance of stopping the Destroyer - although she has no idea how. To make matters worse, Sameth's best friend, Nick, seems to be helping the Destroyer, and there has been no word from the Abhorsen Sabriel or King Touchstone for days.
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