Sabriel – Garth Nix

SabrielFrom 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.

Published: 1995

Why I Chose It: I originally read Sabriel many years ago, but I have never read the full series. I want to finish reading the series, so I thought I would re-read the first book to remind myself what happens!

The Review:

I read a lot of Garth Nix’s books growing up, particularly The Keys to the Kingdom and The Seventh Tower series, and I’ve always enjoyed his writing. Sabriel is no exception, and I enjoyed it as much as (if not more than) when I read it the first time. I love so many of the details that Nix puts in his books. My favourite from Sabriel is by far the seven bells that she carries to help battle against the Dead. Each bell has its own name and own characteristics, and sometimes a mind of its own when Sabriel tries to use them. They are rung as a bell, or sometimes moved in patterns. I just think they’re really cool and I love reading about them. There is also the Charter Magic, controlled by “Charter Marks” that is really interesting to learn about. Although only Sabriel carries the bells, there are Charter Mages who can practice magic. I really liked seeing other people use the same magic as Sabriel, as I felt like I was learning more about how it worked.

I really like the way Nix handles the subject of death. He creates a sort of “land of the dead” that Sabriel can cross into when she needs information, or to search for souls from those just deceased. I love the descriptions of this land. There are so many good aspects to it, such as the cold, the lack of colour. I love that Nix creates seven levels and “gates” that souls have to cross, and that each level and gate has its own characteristics and abilities that Sabriel has to remember in order to cross safely.  But my favourite aspect is that Sabriel doesn’t have free rein there. Death is constantly pulling at her, pulling at her life force, and she literally risks her soul every time she’s there. I really appreciated that Sabriel can’t just wander where ever she wants in Death, but that it was portrayed as something much larger (and stronger) than she is. I also really like the Dead creatures that Nix creates. They’re described just enough to give the idea of what they look like, but leaves a lot to the imagination. They have strengths, but they have weaknesses too. Sabriel’s fear of the Dead is incredibly tangible in the book, even when she’s carrying the tools that can send them back to Death. I think these were really well done.

As for Sabriel, I love her character. She’s just about to graduate from boarding school, and at 18 feels accomplished and ready to face the evils of the world. What I like best though is that as Sabriel encounters the dangers that exist in both Life and Death, she slowly comes to realize that she’s lived a pretty protected life. She’s not as strong as she thought she was, nor does she have as much knowledge. She discovers she’s quite naive, and welcomes the help of those around her. These aspects of her personality made me love her so much. I thought that she was strong and confident, but also not afraid to admit that she has downfalls and weaknesses. Too many times I read a book where the main character is headstrong and over-confident, and remains that way throughout the book. But Sabriel recognizes her weaknesses and strives to overcome them, which humanizes her and made me connect with her more.

I think the reason I love this book so much is that Nix creates an entirely encompassing world to surround his main plot. As Sabriel travels she learns about its history, its politics, and about its inhabitants. I also liked the tensions between the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre, and how one land relies heavily on magic, while the other depends on technology – plus the descriptions of the border where these two lands meet are really interesting. I can’t believe I haven’t read the rest of the series yet, and now I’m definitely excited to keep reading!

Rating: 5 / 5




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