by Garth Nix
Series: Abhorsen #1
Publication Date: 30 September 1996
HarperTeen, Paperback, 311 pages
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Dark secrets, deep love, and dangerous magic.
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. She soon finds companion in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.
With SABRIEL, the first installment in the Abhorsen trilogy, 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.
Ever since hearing about Sabriel and catching sight of its gorgeous new cover, I’ve been dying to read it. Seeing that it’s also known as one of the pioneers in the young adult high fantasy genre, I had pretty high expectations for it. Thankfully, this wonderfully written and utterly absorbing story was far from disappointing.
Why did I take away one star, then? My issue lies with the first half of the book. Although interesting, the world-building had been incredibly confusing as there were barely any explanations to help readers better understand the world of the Abhorsen trilogy. Moreover, Sabriel’s character was rather flat at the start, as if the author had not fully grasped her personality.
On the bright side, things do pick up in the second half of the novel. In all honesty, the later part of the story reeled me in a lot more. Though the heart-pounding action had been present throughout the whole story, it was only later on that I felt Sabriel as a person; as a girl whose only living family member has gone missing and is practically all alone in a dangerous foreign land, instead of just another protagonist on some random adventure.
As I’ve mentioned above, Sabriel is one of the first well-known young adult fantasy novels and it was pretty fun noticing all the elements in this book that might have inspired some of the newer YA books I’ve read recently. The similarities I remember off the top of my head being:
- Mogget the ‘cat’ eerily reminded me of Grimalkin from The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa.
- The Chartermarks immediately made me think of the runes Shadowhunters use in the Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare. Even though they are used in vastly different ways.
- A particular defensive structure mentioned in Sabriel (to keep out pirates and maritime threats) was practically the same structure mentioned in one of the Throne of Glass novellas by Sarah J. Maas. It was The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, I think? (this one could’ve been an accidental result of similar historical city defenses research though)
Moving on. Incase you did not know, there is romance in Sabriel (YAY. I’m sort of a romance junkie…) It’s pretty subtle but still good enough to get your feels a-tingling. Touchstone and Sabriel complemented each other really well and though their relationship was slightly underdeveloped, there’s a lot of potential there.
Which brings me to my next point: the sequel, Lirael, doesn’t seem to revolve around Sabriel, inferring from the synopsis that barely mentioned her. I’m wondering if that means the possible blossoming of Sabriel-Touchstone is either delayed, or completely nonexistent. However, I’m undoubtedly still reading the rest of this trilogy – or is it a series now? – because Sabriel has got me hooked onto the magical world it’s set in.
As for the plot, it was probably my favorite aspect of the whole book. The action and excitement picked up from the very first page and never stopped, evening the last sentence; there simply had not been a single dull moment. Despite mentioning the world-building being confusing, it was still entirely absorbing and fascinatingly unique. I loved how Garth Nix incorporated both a traditional, superstitious country (the Old Kingdom) and a modernizing and – in a way – scientific country (Ancelstierre) in the story. The existence of the two vastly different countries was completely unexpected and I loved how it was used to enhance the plot and ultimately, Sabriel’s plan in taking down whichever evil force that won’t be named in the name of spoilers.
All in all, Sabriel was a masterfully plotted novel and despite the minor flaws it had, I would definitely recommend it to any fantasy lover. Moreover, it’s practically a classic in the YA high fantasy genre! One that’s not insanely hard to understand, at that. So why not just give Sabriel a try!