Author: Garth Nix
Publisher: Harper Collins
Length: 491 pages
Original Publishing Date: September 30th, 1996
Series: Abhorsen #1
Where I got it: 3-M Online Library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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
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 had seen Sabriel over the years; one of my friends back in middle school had raved about how good it was, but this summer was the first chance that I had to actually read it, and I have to say that I absolutely loved it.
Garth Nix has created a fascinatingly complex world in this novel. Sabriel grows up in Ancelstierre, which reminded me of characterizations of WW2-era England. However, just across The Wall is the Old Kingdom, which is a fantasy realm populated by magic and creatures of Death. Sabriel’s journey takes her into both locations, and Nix’s balance of the two worlds was a little jarring at first, but once I got used to this idea of these two very different worlds co-existing, it became unlike any other YA fantasy book that I’ve read before.
The character of Sabriel is both the kind of character I wish was in more YA novels and also someone who I wish was real so that we could be friends. She’s incredibly smart and determined, and I was cheering for her during every step of her journey. Her transformation from schoolgirl to heroine is completely believable, and I found myself wishing that the book was longer just so that I could keep reading about her.
The supporting characters, like Mogget the cat, and Touchstone the Charter Mage, are equally well-developed, and they come across as a true team rather than a hastily assembled group of misfits that sometimes happens in other fantasy novels.
Nix has a very clever way of making it so that there isn’t a ton of awkward exposition at the beginning in order to acclimate the readers to this fantasy world. Sometimes the worst thing that happens at the beginning of fantasy novels is a whole lot of exposition to the rules of the world, but Nix avoids that by letting the reader discover the Old Kingdom as Sabriel does. This makes the novel move at a very fast pace while also making it easier to understand this complicated world.
One thing I also appreciated about this book was its honesty about sexuality. It definitely wasn’t a big part of the novel at all, but it was there, which felt very real for having an 18-year-old narrator. It reminded me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness novels in the way that sexuality was present but it didn’t dominate the novel (and there certainly weren’t any sex scenes in the book).
Overall, I thought the novel was smart and refreshing. Just because it wasn’t published in this decade doesn’t mean that it should be forgotten. It has definitely stood the test of time, and I will definitely be recommending this book to all fans of YA novels. I’m glad that I got the chance to rediscover this gem, and I cannot wait to read the next book in the series, Lirael.