Book Review: Sabriel

I recommend Sabriel for readers who like somewhat dark things with a bright twist and who like intelligent, capable female characters. 

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Sabriel by New York Times-bestselling author Garth Nix

Synopsis

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 series, 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.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Garth Nix has been a full-time writer since 2001, but has also worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller, and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve.

Garth’s books include the Old Kingdom fantasy series, comprising Sabriel, Lirael; Abhorsen; Clariel and Goldenhand; SF novels Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes; and a Regency romance with magic, Newt’s Emerald. His novels for children include The Ragwitch; the six books of The Seventh Tower sequence; The Keys to the Kingdom series and others. He has co-written several books with Sean Williams, including the Troubletwisters series; Spirit Animals Book Three: Blood Ties; Have Sword, Will Travel; and the forthcoming sequel Let Sleeping Dragons Lie. A contributor to many anthologies and magazines, Garth’s selected short fiction has been collected in Across the Wall and To Hold the Bridge.

(Via author’s website)

My Impressions

I had never read Garth Nix before picking up this book, and only heard of him in passing. But on my way back from a trip with a friend, he suggested Sabriel to me based on my explanation of the premise of a story I’ve been writing, saying he thought I’d like it. Since I wasn’t feeling anything in my to-be-read pile, I picked it up at my local library the next chance I got.

While I’m not always keen on the World War I era aesthetic, Nix writes it very well, including battle details and tactics comparable to Brian Jacques (the Redwall series) level quality. While Ancelstierre, on one side of the Wall, boasts technological advancements, the Old Kingdom, on the other side, remains more medieval, drawing in readers who appreciate one or both of ancient and modern time periods. I really appreciated Sabriel as a character herself. She’s brave and honorable, but in a smart, thoughtful, considerate, and strategic manner, the kind of character I don’t get to see in fiction nearly often enough. All the other characters shine alongside her, unique and memorable, influencing and impacting the outcome of the narrative almost as much as Sabriel does.

The underlying aesthetic of the story gets me the most. I’m attracted to fiction about necromancy, but it’s hard to find the particular flavor I’m seeking. Sabriel scratched so very much of that itch for me. I love the idea of an ancient line of necromancers, called Abhorsen, living and working to lay the Dead to rest rather than raise them up, unlike other, more base necromancers of their world. They use very special bells to send the Dead down the river of Death — unruly bells that could also turn on their user — as well as a specific sword created for fighting the Dead. The river itself calls to mind the idea of the River Styx and the ley lines dubbed ‘the Corpse Road’ in some regions of our ancient world. Most shockingly, I for once didn’t despise the romantic subplot, as it unfolded a little more practically and a little less passionately than I tend to see. Nix‘s descriptions, comparisons, and imagery are beautiful and some of the turns of phrase have me jealous for not having thought of them first.

There wasn’t much I disliked about these books. Only the somewhat older-fashioned narrative style could sometimes break the immersion and unexpectedly bring me back out of the story.

I recommend Sabriel for readers who like somewhat dark things with a bright twist and who like intelligent, capable female characters.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.17 stars


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Author: S. G. Baker

S. G. Baker has spent her entire life on the eerie High Plains of the Texas Panhandle. Her most recent short-story, "Thirsty Ground," is featured in Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers Vol. 2. She’s graduated from West Texas A&M University with a degree in English and two short-stories published in the WT English, Philosophy, and Modern Languages periodical The Legacy.

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