{Review} SABRIEL by Garth Nix

O P E N I N G   H O O K:

Sabriel (Abhorsen, #1)
   IT WAS LITTLE MORE than three miles from the Wall into the Old Kingdom, but that was enough. Noonday sunshine could be seen on the other side of the Wall in Ancelstierre, and not a cloud in sight. Here, there was a clouded sunset, and a steady rain had just begun to fall, coming faster than the tents could be raised.

The midwife shrugged her cloak higher up against her neck and bent over the woman again, raindrops spilling from her nose onto the upturned face below. The midwife's breath blew out in a cloud of white, there there was no answering billow of air from her patient.

The midwife sighed and slowly straightened up, that single movement telling the watchers everything they needed to know. The woman who had staggered into their forest camp was dead, only holding on to life long enough to pass it on to the baby at her side. But even as the midwife picked up the pathetically small form beside the dead woman, it shuddered within its wrappings, and was still.

(Page 1, US Paperback Edition)

“Five Great Charters knit the land

Together linked, hand in hand

One in the people who wear the crown

Two in the folk that keep the Dead down

Three and Five became stone and mortar

Four sees all in frozen water.” 


I have to start this review out with a story, just to give you a tiny bit of insight into what it feels like to be reviewing a story that I have been reading and rereading since I was eleven years old. When I was a burgeoning preteen, my local library had a pitifully small children's section and YA had not yet been separated into its own entity. You had to dig, you had to go through the shelves and try and tell which books were going to be filled with enough to keep your growing mind satisfied. Series were your lifeblood back then, because you know you could go back to the same author over and over and be satisfied and engaged by the story. At this time, especially for me, Tamora Pierce and Garth Nix provided the foundation of everything I would grow to appreciate in YA fiction. Brilliant and detailed world building, strong female characters who were still human and tangible. I'd explore other aspects of the children's department...but I'd always end up leaving with at least one of the above authors tucked into my pile of six books.

When you can read a book; dive into a world over and over again for the better part of 16 years, you know that you have found something special. And Sabriel gave me a storyline that felt more grown up than other things I was reading at that time, just the right amount of darkness, moments that were a little frightening but still captured in age appropriate narration. The fact that the world of The Old Kingdom is still being explored, that years later we are getting more books (NUMBER FIVE IN THE SERIES, GOLDENHAND, JUST CAME OUT YESTERDAY!) fills me with a powerful sense of nostalgia and desire to share my love for this story with as many people as possible.

Let's start with Sabriel; the girl who was born dead. The book dives right into this, a prologue in italics which gives you the sense that you are most likely reading something from the past. You meet Sabriel, a newborn infant, still beside her mother's equally cold form. Then you meet her father, the immediately intriguing Abbhorsen, who shows off his unique skill by traveling to the spiritual river of death, rescuing the infant from a shadowy and vile creature named Kerrigor, and bringing her back to life. That much action, just in the prologue...and it leaves you wanting to know more. All good things are worth waiting for though, and you have to wait a little, because chapter one's atmosphere changes drastically. it modernizes, we zoom in on Sabriel as a young woman, having grown up at a boarding school in Ancelstierre. This region is separated from The Old Kingdom by a wall, and the magic we saw in the prologue is not as prevalent here. Sabriel is not at all a normal schoolgirl though, which is immediately apparent as she brings a schoolmate's pet rabbit back to life. In terms of character Sabriel is smart, she has a good head on her shoulder. Though her relationship with her father is not traditional and she has grown up separated from the lifestyle he lives, her love for him is immense, and her desire to be someone he'd be proud of is filtered throughout the story. When it becomes apparent that her father is missing and in danger, Sabriel sets out to find him with a very singular mindset; a young girl who is worried for her parent, who is terrified at the idea of a personal loss. Our heroine grows with the story, in more ways than one, coming into her power and confidence as the next Abbhorsen, while also realizing that she may have to put her personal desires for her father's safe return aside for the greater good. Sabriel is smart, resourceful, she doesn't pretend that she doesn't feel fear or doubt, but she forces herself through those moments and is an amazing example of the various forms of bravery that exist; the kind that come from sword and magic bell, and the kind that come from heart and fortitude of spirit.

You might be asking "What is an Abbhorsen?" The answer is that they are a very special form of necromancer. While some use their abilities to pull the Dead into the living world, enslaving them into grotesque servitude, the Abbhorsen is loyal to Charter Magic, they exist to bind and keep the Dead where they belong. The main villain of our story, Kerrigor, is a dark shadow creature, stubborn and vicious, attempting to break his way out of death to terrorize and claim power over the living. He's a perfect villain, especially as more of his story starts to unfold before the reader. There are no placeholder characters in this tale, everyone from the Charter Mage Touchstone to the strange and snarky cat Moggot are all teeming with curiosity inducing depth. Nix is an example of everything I love in an author who really builds a world. You are left with questions about the difference between charter magic and free magic, you are left wondering about the dark creatures in death and if the story is really done. The answer is it's not. With five books in the series you have lots to keep exploring, learning a little bit more about the world with every single story. That's what keeps me going back. You take familiar characters with you, meet new ones, and with every question that gets answered you come up with ten more. The Old Kingdom is the world that keeps on giving, in a way that is dark and sprinkled with moments of humor. 

If you like a powerful story with a strong female lead, this book is for you. If you like detailed worlds that grow and unfold before you with such clarity that it becomes hard to remember that it's not real, then this book is for you. If you like your magic mingled with darkness and moments that will make the hairs raise on the back of your neck, this entire series by Garth Nix is for you. I hope that you, like me, find it to be a world you want to dive into over and over again.

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG13 (Not a lot of direct acts of romance in this book, but there are grown up insinuations and the burgeoning hints of sexuality. )
Language: PG ( There's no cursing or foul language. )
Violence: PG 13(Violence as befitting instances of war and battle, though I will say that they are not lingered on in gory or unnecessary detail. )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

So the cover above is new to me. The series was rereleased a few years ago with all new covers, and I gotta say I love that the charter marks are so heavily featured. When you move the book around the light marks of the background glow and catch your eye, making you feel like you've unlocked something secret and just for you. 

For nostalgia's sake though, I also have to show you guys the cover of Sabriel that I grew up on...this is what I would search the shelves of my local library for.
Sabriel (Abhorsen,  #1)

I love both covers equally, but this one really highlights our heroine, Sabriel. It gives you an image of the bells and her sword, the semi medieval feel of her garb, and a visual hint at the kind of darkness she is fighting.

O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Garth Nix
Release Date: First published 1995, This edition published May 6th 2003
Publisher: Harper Collins
Received: Purchased

Sabriel is the daughter of the Mage Abhorsen. Ever since she was a tiny child, she has lived outside the Wall of the Old Kingdom--far away from the uncontrolled power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won't stay dead. 

But now, her father is missing and Sabriel is called upon to cross into the world to find him, Leaving the safety of the school she has known as home, Sabriel embarks upon a quest fraught with supernatural dangers, with companions she is unsure of--for nothing is as it seems within the boundary of the Old Kingdom. There, she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life, and comes face to face with her hidden destiny.