It takes place in the fairly near aftermath of the battle with Orannis—where we find Lirael with a new hand (courtesy of her nephew) and still in mourning for her lost friend, The Disreputable Dog. There’s some suspicious Magic and undead activity afoot, and she will need to use all her accumulative skills--as an Abhorsen, a Remembrancer, and a Second Assistant Librarian—to stop whatever is threatening The Old Kingdom.
This book can potentially stand on its own thanks to some succinct summaries, but is better off read as an add-on to the original three that serves to tie up a few loose ends. (i.e. What becomes of Chlorr, the escaped servant of Orannis? Does Nick ever recover after his ordeal? Will Lirael be forever alone without her Dog? And perhaps most importantly to this reader… WHERE IS MOGGET?!)
To some extent, this feels like a continuation of Lirael’s story. She’s far from the only POV character---we also get a regular shift to the utilitarian perspective of a far north clan woman named Ferin, and some alternating back and forth to Nick and Sam (all in third-person limited)—but its Lirael who demonstrates the most growth. And honestly, it’s edifying to see how she’s transitioned across three books from shy, self-pitying, misfit librarian to largely competent, semi-confident Abhorsen-in-Waiting.
Nick and Sam end up seeming disappointingly bland in personality—both proving somewhat useful, but spending a lot of their time fretting over minor social missteps. And unfortunately, the romantic angle that forms between Lirael and Nick feels a bit forced and not-quite-endearingly awkward. But this series has never been reliant on romantic chemistry to divert attention from the plot.
All in all, a worthwhile read for those who aren’t feeling ready to say goodbye to this iconic fantasy series.