Review – Sabriel by Garth Nix (Paperback)

Sabriel Cover
Sabriel Cover

I went onto the Twitter and asked for book recommendations (note to self, write a post about how important those are) and someone recommended that I take a look at the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. I believe the person said it was an interesting take on Necromancy. I read the synopsis and ordered the whole trilogy used.

Since childhood, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who refuse to stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and Sabriel must cross into that world to find him. With Mogget, whose feline form hides a powerful, perhaps malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, Sabriel travels deep into the Old Kingdom. There she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life and comes face to face with her own hidden destiny.

This sounds like the basic set up for any fantasy world. It’s not, though. The thing that fascinated me the most is that this world is fairly analogous to Earth in the 1940s. They have the sort of technology and culture that England had during that time, and that’s not all. The world is divided into two halves, the New Kingdom and the Old Kingdom. Technology doesn’t work in the old and magic doesn’t work in the new. The wall, a dividing line between the two, is constantly guarded on both sides and not just anyone can cross. Sabriel, the daughter of a powerful necromancer, is an exception to that rule. She possesses her father’s abilities and knowledge and, as the synopsis hints, has to use them to quiet the rising dead and their new ruler.

In addition to what’s, in my mind, a great bit of world building, Nix has created some very good characters. Sabriel is the sort of strong female character that I like to see in YA fiction. She doesn’t need rescuing and in fact at one point rescues a royal male. She’s not over the top though. She has her own fears and worries. She’s far from indestructible and needs to adapt quickly to the changes in her life. She makes mistakes and earns her place in my heart. My other favortie character in this story is Mogget. He plays a reluctant and not entirely trustworthy adviser to Sabriel. There are truly some funny bits to their interactions.

This is a well written novel. Not for nothing, it won an award or two. The world building is largely seamless. The threats to the characters are well handled. You feel pretty certain who’s going to survive and who won’t, but never so certain that there’s no tension. There’s plenty of action and suspense, with a dash of romance. I immediately handed this to my thirteen year old daughter to read. I give this five out of five wands.

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