Jennifer Wardrip's Reviews > Sabriel

Sabriel by Garth Nix
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's review
Jun 14, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: trt-gold-star-award-winner, trt-posted-reviews, read-by-other-reviewers

Reviewed by Candace Cunard for

The first thing that hit me when I finished reading this book was that I should have read it much sooner. I'd been meaning to read it for the past six or seven years but never quite getting around to it--and that was a mistake. In SABRIEL, Garth Nix introduces the reader to a compelling fantasy world that comes alive through the actions of the title character and others.

The Old Kingdom is a place of magic, both Charter magic, wielded by those with some connection to the ancient Charter that bound magic to benevolent purposes, and Free Magic, the creatures that escaped the binding and defy the Charter. Free Magic is also used by necromancers desiring to defy the Charter by animating dead bodies. Only one person, the Abhorsen, combines use of Charter and Free Magic for the purpose of returning dead spirits to their final rest and dead bodies to their graves. As the Abhorsen's daughter, and herself Abhorsen-in-Waiting, Sabriel must learn how to use the Abhorsen's tools to venture into Death and bind destructive spirits so they cannot cause harm to others.

However, things in the Old Kingdom are becoming more and more dangerous by the minute, and as a result Sabriel grows up in Ancelstierre, the Old Kingdom's southern neighbor, close enough to the border that she is able to learn and practice Charter Magic, but far enough removed that she is ignorant of the customs and traditions of her home country. The story begins when eighteen-year-old Sabriel, about to finish preparatory school in Ancelstierre, receives a messenger from her father, carrying the bells and sword of the Abhorsen, a signal that he is in danger and requires her help. Sabriel must cross over into the Old Kingdom, a place she knows little about, and somehow find a way to save her father from whatever fate has befallen him before his spirit is pulled too far into Death. Along the way, she meets a fickle magical spirit in the form of a talking cat named Mogget, the traditional helpmeet of a long line of Abhorsens, and a former Royal Guard called Touchstone who has been frozen in the form of a ship's figurehead for the past two hundred years. Together, Sabriel, Mogget, and Touchstone journey through the Old Kingdom as they learn more about the necromancer who has tried to kill Sabriel's father and who will wreak destruction upon the land on both sides of the border if they cannot stop him.

Nix's writing is lean and easy to read, creating characters whose thoughts are clear and whose motives are intensely human. The relationship that develops between Sabriel and Touchstone is emotionally real and rich, and I enjoyed reading about all of their interactions. Even secondary characters are detailed and have personalities of their own. I was also impressed by Nix's concept of magic, which is deeper and more textured than the point-and-spell world of Harry Potter or countless other similar stories (although this book will certainly appeal to fans of the former class of fantasy). In the Old Kingdom, performing magic depends upon a deep knowledge of the required Charter marks, and in Sabriel's case, upon her mastery of the seven bells that assist the necromancer's trade by helping command the dead. This book is truly original--I have not seen anything like it before.
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