Lirael, the heroine of this novel, is half Clayr and half Abhorsen.The Clayr are predominantly a race of women; tan, fair-haired, and light-eyed, they possess the ability to see into the future. The Abhorsen are pale, dark haired, heroic necromancers who lay the dead to rest.
Lirael is an outcast in the glacial region of the Clayr. She lacks the ability to See visions of the future, a gift that her heritage as a Clayr should have ensured her by adolescence. Because the Clayr view the Sight as a crucial rite of passage, she wears the long blue tunic of a child, as opposed to the white robes of the “adults”. She is also visibly set apart by her physical characteristics. (“Lirael hated sharing the mirror because it made yet another difference more obvious. Most of the Clayr had brown skin that quickly tanned to a deep chestnut out on the glacier slopes, as well as bright blond hair and light eyes. In contrast Lirael stood out like a pallid weed among healthy flowers. Her white skin burnt instead of tanning, and she had dark eyes and even darker hair.” (14) The pain of her situation nearly leads her to suicide, until she decides to work as Librarian in the often dangerous Library deep within the Glacier. She eventually discovers, however, that she possesses the ability to Remember—to Look into the past with the aid of a small mirror. Everything falls into place once Lirael discovers that she is half Abhorsen, and in fact the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, explaining both her inability to See and her propensity for matters regarding the Dead (“But I can’t be!” exclaimed Lirael. “I mean, I don’t want to be. I’m a Clayr. I suppose I am a Remembrancer as well, but I am…I am a Daughter of the Clayr!” (473). Upon learning that she will never have the Sight, Lirael’s pervasive sense of otherness is finally, definitively confirmed. She is told, “You belong here,” among the Abhorsen, and that “Your Blood has made you what you are” (476). Lirael remains stunned by the revelation and struggles with her old feelings of wanting only to belong among the Clayr.
Lirael has interesting implications for mixed race studies. On the one hand, she is spared much of the obvious racism that mixed race people encounter and she inhabits a world that does not share our specific categorization of races, such as black or Asian. On the other hand, the discrimination that she experiences is no less painful or difficult for her to endure. She is routinely mistaken for a passing trader rather than a member of her own extended family and race (“Can I have your plate, please?” asked the unseen cousin behind the scullery hatch. “Oh, Lirael! I thought you were a visitor.” ). Her physical characteristics, so different from those around her, lead others to make misguided assumptions about her identity and routinely exclude her. She has no others that look like her, and that, coupled with more obvious differences (her lack of Sight) brands her as a definite outsider—one who initially finds solace in a place where her uniformity of dress and anonymity grant her some semblance of peace (the Library). Ultimately, Lirael has no choice but to identify with one side of her mixed heritage, although she possesses undeniable traits from both races. Even though her position draws from both sides, blood becomes destiny for her, and one heritage proves dominant over the other. She has no real agency in the matter and her identity develops as essentially predetermined.