Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.
With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen trilogy, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn’t always clear—and sometimes disappears altogether.
I joined the Old Kingdom Readalong via Hot Key Books on Goodreads rather late on, so it was a case of catching up. First impressions, Sabriel excited me and disappointed me. The first half of the book was so rich in descriptive prose that it couldn’t help but slow down the pace of the novel and I felt it dragged a bit. Though, having said that I couldn’t help but admire Garth Nix’s magical powers. Yes I’m sure he has them. His descriptions are just so vivid, and well amazing. My response was contrary, I loved his descriptive passages yet I longed for events to happen more swiftly. Also I had a little bit of trouble initially connecting to the characters. I think this was most probably because Garth Nix needed to devote quite a lot of time to developing the system of magic that is so central to the plot. There are two main kinds of magic, Charter Magic and Free Will. Charter Magic is of the benevolent kind, whereas Free Will is not. Free Magic is employed by necromancers who defy the Charter by bringing dead bodies to life. Only Sabriel’s father, the Abhorsen uses Charter and Free Magic together to return the dead to their rightful place.
The addition of Mogget the talking cat was a big plus for me, being a bit of a cat lover, I just loved Mogget! He seemed to have the most developed character of all the protagonists with his sarcastic and often witty comments. I found Touchstone a bit wooden! Well maybe this is to be expected considering his background! Though I did laugh at the manner in which Garth Nix introduced him into the story. A bit of nudity added a refreshing element to the story! I welcomed the romantic chemistry that started to develop between Sabriel and Touchstone. Hey somebody has to enliven this wooden guy and I’m sure Sabriel has the tools to do so! But Touchstone’s rapid love interest in Sabriel, could have been developed a bit more, to me it seemed a bit over the top. Hey, this guy de thawed way too quick!
The novel is set in two contrasting countries, Ancelstierre in the south, and The Old Kingdom in the north. But the two neighbourhoods couldn’t be more different. In Ancelstierre magic is seen as superstition. In the school that Sabriel attends the basics of magic are begrudgingly recognised and taught. Sabriel is a student at Wyverley College, a boarding school for girls on the Ancelstierre side of the Wall, close to the border of The Old Kingdom. There she studies the usual subjects plus a dash of Magic too. Her father, the Abhorsen, pays a visit to see her once or twice a year. He sets about training her to bind the dead so they don’t come back to inhabit life using The Book of the Dead, Charter Magic and Bells. Sabriel’s father doesn’t turn up for his customary visit, and the book opens. Instead a dead sending comes with a message for her. Her father is trapped in death. Now Sabriel is given the title Abhorsen-in waiting, the responsibility to set the world of the Old Kingdom to rights, and rescue her father. All at the tender age of eighteen. So the adventure begins. Sabriel learns that her father is an Abhorsen, a good Necromancer who lays dead creatures to rest and stops them feeding on the living. Sabriel finds that her rudimentary magical training at Wyverley College leaves her ill equipped for the task ahead. She feels all of the naivety of her eighteen years but carries on regardless and never gives up. Luckily she is equipped with powerful, magical tools to help her on her journey where she must learn the Abhorsen’s duty to step into Death and bind harmful spirits who desire to cheat death. She is only able to do this by developing a detailed understanding of the Charter marks, and mastering the seven bells that assist the necromancer’s trade by helping command the dead.
There are a lot of different concepts of death to get to grips with, all of which are pretty imaginative and sometimes quite gory. Death doesn’t just happen and that’s it. No it is a pretty detailed process, your spirit has to pass through nine gates until it is finally laid to rest. But of course some of the recently dead aren’t too keen on remaining dead and they do their utmost to fight their way out of death by inhabiting a recently dead body or else they serve as a servant of a Necromancer.
It is a fine example of a coming of age story. Sabriel grows and develops as the story unfolds. This aspect of the novel I really enjoyed.
Would I like to read more? Yes, I think I would like to see how this develops in the second book, Lirael. I have a feeling that now that I have got to grips with the magical world of the Old Kingdom I may just enjoy it even more!
The ending was definitely a highlight for me. I was reading the last few pages as I was waiting for my daughter, she was in her gymnastics class. Anyway, she came out before I finished! So I had to stop! Needless to say I finished the rest of the book when I got back home. Oh and there is an Epilogue too, thank heavens!
Recommended for readers of YA, Fantasy, Magic, Adventure, Science Fiction Fantasy, High Fantasy, and Romance.
Award information via Wikipedia: Sabriel won the Aurealis Award for best young-adult novel and best fantasy novel in 1995. It is also an ALA Notable Book and was a short-list nominee for the 1996 Ditmar Award for best long fiction.
Authors website: http://www.garthnix.com/
Have you read Sabriel? Do comment I’d love to hear from you.
Bye for now,
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx