WHY DO I NEVER HEAR PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS BOOK?! This book is literally so good and I don’t know why I never hear anything about it. So a little background as to why I read this book in the first place, my best friend and I decided to start a book exchange, every month (or every other month, depending on how long it takes us to finish the books) we plan to meet up at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants and discuss books that we exchanged in the previous month, and then exchange for new books. I gave him Fairest of All by Serena Valentino, which he ended up loving, and he gave me Sabriel, which is the first book in the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix. Garth Nix is one of his most favorite authors and I believe this trilogy maybe his favorite, if not it is one of his all time favorite trilogies. And I can really see why.
Sabriel follows the story of a young woman, Sabriel. She is a member of the Abhorsen family, a powerful family of necromancers, but they’re not necromancers in the sense that we typically think, they don’t bring people back from the dead, their job is to make sure the dead stay dead. They typically live in an area known as the Old Kingdom, but when Sabriel was very young, her father sent her to Ancelstierre to try to protect her, so although she does receive some magic and necromancer training, she is not as knowledgable as she could be when her father goes missing. Sabriel realizes something bad has happened when her father doesn’t come to meet her as he normally does, and then to make things worse, she finds her father’s sword and set of bells (tools a necromancer uses to control the dead) in Death (as a necromancer, Sabriel has the ability to travel into Death and walk amongst the gates of Death). Sabriel then decides to go on a journey into the Old Kingdom and find her father. But things can’t be that easy, and on her journey she stumbles upon dark secrets and creatures, and she realizes that this journey is about so much more then finding her father. Guided by a cat, and protected by a young man who Sabriel had saved from being trapped in a wooden state, Sabriel works to save the world she knows from being overrun by darkness.
There is literally just so much going on in this book that that description above hardly does the story justice. This book is the perfect example of how you do high fantasy correctly. High fantasy is one of those things that I sometimes really, really love and other times I really, really dislike. An author has to do high fantasy right, some become too descriptive and draw out the details of things for far too long. I have tried to read The Hobbit a couple of times and I just can’t bring myself to do it. Although I will admit Tolkein certainly knew how to create a fascinating and interesting world, I could not deal with the writing. I felt like pages and pages were dedicated to mundane things that did not require the length of description that they received. I wish I could read Tolkein because I love the movies based on his books, but he is just one example of a high fantasy writer that I can’t deal with. Garth Nix is very different, although he certainly describes the world that he creates in detail, he doesn’t waste time explaining them to such a degree that you feel bored.
Nix really creates this fascinating world and the magic system is just so interesting and described rather perfectly. The magic that surrounds the necromancers is so unique, I really enjoyed the whole bell system; Sabriel is given her father’s set of bells and each bell has a unique name and purpose in controlling the dead. There’s also a complex magic system that’s known as charter magic that draws its power from these objects called charter stones. And then you have free magic which is what the dead use to bring themselves back into the world of the living and can be a powerful, but dangerous, source of magic itself. Nix really goes into detail about how the magic works and how the good use the charter magic and how the bad can use the free magic. He also goes into a bit of detail about the background of the Old Kingdom and how these charter stones were created as well as the differences between the greater dead and lesser dead and a little bit of how they use the free magic system.
The characters are so well developed. You really root for Sabriel the entire way, she’s one of those characters who starts out with great courage but is a little unsure of herself, and as the story goes on she just becomes more and more powerful, and she discovers so many things about herself, her family, and the world that she comes from. Touchstone, the man who was trapped as a wooden carving, is more traditional and old-school, which makes sense because he lived a long time ago, and as soon as he meets Sabriel, he decides he needs to protect her. Then you have Mogget, the cat, who is really quite an interesting character, he’s part good but inside him is a beast of free magic that is waiting to be unleashed (or un-collared I should say) because when that happens, his evil side can come out. Sabriel’s journey certainly has its ups and downs but she powers through everything to save her father. The story is full of adventure, hope, love, magic, death, life, and even a little romance; so definitely do yourself a favor and read this book if you love high fantasy or want to get into high fantasy.