This is a walking book, which was immensely disappointing. Here's the thing. This is the fifth book in a series. The first book could be read as a stand-alone. The second and third were closely linked and could be read as a duo, but really drew on the first book. The fourth was a prequel, set far before the first three, and wasn't the same in quality though it did give some fascinating character backstory to villain encountered in another book. And now there's this one, which feels like Nix just wrote it because people asked him to, rather than because there was a story asking to be told. Consequently, the pacing was terrible, and the vast majority of the book (about the first 70% of it) are spent with characters travelling somewhere with only the flimsiest of goals.
Our two main characters here are Lirael, the heroine of books two and three, who is now the Abhorsen-In-Waiting under Queen Sabriel, who still holds the title of Abhorsen. Together, they are working to quell the still-trouble-making spirit of Chlorr of the Mask (previously known as Clariel, the Lost Abhorsen) until she gets away, and then Sabriel and her husband go away on vacation, neatly banishing them for the majority of the story. Lirael eventually sets off to help and recover Nick Sayres, who seems to have gotten into some trouble on the other side of the Wall that divides the Old Kingdom from Nick's homeland. Meanwhile, a girl called Ferin, who's from a group of nomadic tribes we've never heard of before in the four books that we've had so far(?) is trying to deliver a message to Lirael, and is being pursued by other tribespeople who want to kill her because she's escaped a death dictated by the Witch with No Face--three guesses who that is. Consequently, Lirael spends a lot of time going to the Wall, and then to the glacier where the Clayr live with Nick in tow. Ferin spends a lot of time on a boat and then running down a road and over some ridges with a messed-up foot. There are a few interesting encounters along the way, but they are few and far between and are over far too quickly. Sabriel and King Touchstone's people show up to magically save Ferin and her companions. Lirael doesn't have much to do.
And there's a distinct problem with Ferin as a character, which is that she is only mildly interesting at best. Sabriel and Lirael both came across as fully-developed characters from the beginnings of their books. Sabriel always had a sense of duty, a calling to the position as Abhorsen, that drove her actions to save her father and the Old Kingdom. Lirael didn't know what her purpose was, not possessing the future sight of most of the Clayr, but longed to find a purpose, and made that her goal in her first book and then set out to fulfill her destiny as Remembrancer and Abhorsen in her second book. While Clariel's book didn't have the same breathtaking, epic scope, there was a sad poetry about it as we saw her struggle for her own place and then slowly spiral down into the dark lure of Free Magic. But Ferin? Ferin's just a messenger. Toward the end of the book, she gains a bit of a humorous element (a bit discordant with her character for the rest of the book) and her backstory is interesting, but I never felt like it pulled into her character and made her an interesting, compelling character like our other heroines. In fact, I couldn't bring myself to really care about Ferin at all. Skipping her chapters entirely was a very tempting prospect.
And then there's the last part of the book, where Lirael and Nick set out to find Chlorr's "anchor" and finally banish her beyond Death into the final resting place, or however it's called. While the first part of the book was far too long, this part, this interesting part where Lirael and Nick actually start to talk to each other and build some sort of relationship, and voyage beyond where the Charter lives and into the Great Rift and then into Death itself (on Lirael's part), was far too short. Everything is just kind of thrown together, and at the same time that the nomads are trying to invade the Old Kingdom lands. Sigh.
I also felt like Nix wasn't entirely playing by his own rules here. The bell that's supposed to banish people to the final gate of Death apparently doesn't actually do so if you only ring it quickly and then make it shut up. Looking at that final gate of Death is supposed to take you beyond it, permanently, and yet Lirael just looks away and escapes from it. The Disreputable Dog told Lirael that they wouldn't see each other again, and yet here she is. It felt very much like Nix knew people wanted certain things, and so he wrote them in, rather than writing them in because they worked, fit, or built the world further. Which...basically means that it reads like fanfiction, rather than as another "real" installment. It is another real installment, of course, but it doesn't feel anything like the original books, or even the slow, tragic spiral of Clariel.
Overall, I really wanted to like this book, but it was just okay at best.
2 stars out of 5.