It does appear that Sabriel is written almost like a stand-alone, as this sequel takes place almost one and a half decade after the events in the first book with two new main characters; Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr and Prince Sameth, the son of Sabriel and Touchstone.
Both characters demonstrate the typical angst and insecurity of teenagers; one who bemoans the absence of a power that is the birthright of her race and the other who decries the responsibility thrust upon him because of his birthright and powers. If I have to choose, I will say Lirael is definitely the more aggravating character. While the other Clayrs of ages younger than Lirael started gaining the power of Seeing, she remained an outcast as she continues to well into her teenage years without even a hint of it. However, it turns out that she is very adept at Charter magic and has the ability learn quickly and perform marvellous feats which most others cannot. BUT just because she cannot See, her anxiety that she will never fully be one of the Clayrs grates on her self-confidence and my patience. The appearance of the Disreputable Dog - a creature of magic - was a welcome change to Lirael's story. Not accepting her constant self-belittling, the Dog prods her into action that finally takes the direction of her tale towards an intriguing revelation of her potential heritage. Prince Sameth (or Sam) may be less annoying but I do feel like giving him a good shake for both his actions and inaction in addressing his debilitating fear of his legacy.
The highlight of this series so far truly lies in the magic and worldbuilding. We learn more of the Clayr, a race who appeared briefly in Sabriel, and the birth of the Charter, created out of Free Magic. The seven bells used for necromancy and controlling both the living and the dead, which are tied to the creation of the Charter, are just simply fascinating. So is the portrayal of Death, which is a river, grey and cold, with currents pulling the dead through the Gates, nine in all before a soul goes beyond any necromancer's ability to be summoned back.
The story also started to become more interesting when Lirael and Sam's eventually encountered each other under grave circumstances. This also meant that The Disreputable Dog met Mogget, the cat, who is now accompanying Sam after he stole away from the palace under the guise of an ordinary traveller. It was pretty obvious from the start that both these creatures of magic had a history together, and not an entirely pleasant one. A delightful turn of events, one might say.
The common thread that brought Lirael and Sam together is the potential re-emergence of an extremely dangerous and powerful entity engineered by a necromancer of considerable strength. As we find both our main characters getting to terms with each of their own true legacies, the enemy is moving ever closer to his goal. This volume concluded on an unresolved note, with Lirael and Sam both contending with the grim prospect of having to face this new adversary, setting up the stage for the next book, Abhorsen.