Book Review : Sabriel
By Garth Nix
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.
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.
(Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
The first time I read Sabriel several years ago it seemed very odd to me and I wasn’t sure that I liked it. I just reread it and the next two in the series and am fascinated by the things I discovered.
Sabriel is a classic coming of age novel. The dichotomy between her two worlds, Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom, emphasize the difficulty she experiences in coming to grips with her responsibilities when she knows that other girls will never face the challenges she has ahead of her. Sabriel, the protagonist, subtly shifts through the course of the tale becoming more sure of herself and willing to sacrifice for the good of her world.
Though the plot and characters are different, Sabriel‘s tone reminds me of A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher and Juniper by Monica Furlong. In other words, the tone is dark, forbidden, mysterious and dangerous. I am not into zombie books, and would be less interested in this one if the zombies, or the dead Hands and Greater Dead, ect. comprised the main plot line of the book. (This book was also written/published in 1995, prior to the zombie craze). Sabriel has to face her fears, works through discovering love and the loss of her father.
The world created was fascinating, with death being a series of gates until the final gate the world of spirits is rather fluid with the physical realm. I enjoyed that one of the most effective weapons were bells, perhaps inspired by Tibetan bells or English handbell ringers. I also loved the character of Mogget, he makes me wonder if spirits are often ensorcelled in cats. I know my cat acts possessed at times. I also liked Touchstone and his efforts to be someone he is not. The Abhorsen, Sabriel’s father, seems forbidding and yet did so much to protect his daughter. I also enjoyed the idea that the Abhorsen was similar to a necromancer, but rather his job was to keep the dead from rising. It reminds me a bit of The Princess Bride where Miracle Max describes the hero as only partially dead and not dead dead. In this world, you definitely want to keep the dead dead!
Because Sabriel, and the subsequent novels, are complicated and allude to sex, and other embarrassing situations I would recommend them for slightly older young adult readers.
The teen has not had the opportunity to read this one yet.