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The first novel of Australian author Garth Nix, Sabriel was first published in 1995 and is the first installment in the Old Kingdom series.
A YA fantasy novel, Sabriel explores themes of magic and death, right and wrong, through an adventuring, superhero-like necromancer called the Abhorsen, who instead of raising the dead, returns them to Death. Protector of the Old Kingdom, one of the old blood, the Abhorsen travels between life and death to keep the dead contained and the living safe and free from corruption.
Sabriel, an eighteen year old, at her school across the Wall in Ancelstierre, learns her father, the Abhorsen, is missing and has sent her the tools of his magic. The bells, strapped in a bandolier across her chest, are the tools of a necromancer, his sword marked by charter magic like the baptismal symbol upon her forehead, mark Sabriel, like her father, as the Abhorsen. With her father missing, Sabriel must take his place as the only one who can keep Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom safe from an old menace.
What I liked: I’ve been reading this series for a decade, maybe longer, and I always fall easily into the story. It is compelling, magical and full of tantalising characters.
Sabriel is a strong and determined protagonist, highlighted more by her dogged determination than by outlandish skills or magical ability. Driven by a desire to find and save her father, so they might save the Old Kingdom together, Sabriel is easy to sympathise with.
The world building is given enough detail to feel real and vast, but not so complex that a casual reader gets lost within the names, number of steps and types of moss in the woods. Even the magic that populates the world has rules and can be exhausted, making each win or loss more substantial than some fantasy realms where the protagonist is endowed with limitless power.
What I didn’t like: I don’t have many complaints about the book. Everything comes together neatly without needing to be tied in the perfect bow. I do find that the mythos of the Old Kingdom is fascinating and leaves me constantly yearning for more that has not and will not be fulfilled in this novel. In particular, there are many questions about Mogget that remain unanswered and which will not be answered until the third novel, Abhorsen. This means that while Sabriel can stand on it’s own without the rest of the trilogy (and more associated books), you need to complete all three books to get a thorough understanding of the history of this book.