Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sabriel Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Garth Nix
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Dark Fantasy
Series: Abhorsen Book One
Pages: 496

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The first installment in Garth Nix’s Young Adult Abhorsen Trilogy is a morbid affair.  This is a trilogy that not only explores typical YA issues like first romances and coming of age, but it also explores less typical issues like death.  By exploring death, I mean there is a lot of it in this book.  Undead and suffering souls are everywhere and the story comes with all the powerful emotions that surround it. The way the subject matter is treated in the plot and how it affects all the characters make this one of the more emotionally intense YA fantasy’s you can read.

The book opens with a young mother who’s wandered into a travelers camp in the Old Kingdom.  As she dies she gives birth to her daughter, but the daughter too succumbs to death.  A man called Abhorsen arrives in the camp shortly after.  He heads into death and brings the young girl back, declaring her to be his daughter. Eighteen years later the young girl, called Sabriel, is attending an all girls school in the New Kingdom when a messenger brings back her father’s bells and sword along with the message that he’s gone missing.

As it turns out Abhorsen is not the name of Sabriel’s father, rather it’s a title for an important position in the Old Kingdom.  Abhorsen’s are the only people that can perform a combination of charter magic and necromancy – in other words both the dark and lighter sides of magic.  With her father missing, Sabriel has essentially taken on this important position.

As she searches for her father, Sabriel is accompanied by Mogget, a powerful magical creature that has been bound to the will of the Abhorsen by a magical collar.  It frequently takes shape in the form of a small talking cat.  Also joining the search is Touchstone, a man that was formerly trapped as a woodcarving for hundreds of years, that is eventually awakened by Sabriel. His mysterious past may offer some clues to what’s happened to her father.

The worldbuilding physically showcases the difference between new and old world thinking.  The Old Kingdom is like your typical medieval fantasy kingdom, except at the beginning of this book it’s fallen into a state of decay since it hasn’t had a proper king in hundreds of years.  The New Kingdom is a lot like the World War II era of our world.  There are firearms, tanks, cars … etc. etc. Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire will notice these two kingdoms are separated by a giant wall … it bares to remember though that Nix’s story was published a year before A Game of Thrones.

Each side – Old and New – has its strengths and its flaws.  Magic gets weaker in the New Kingdom, but it’s safer to be in and has a lot more advanced technology. The Old Kingdom may have a lot of magic, but there is plenty of evil magic, too, and a lot of undead people who need to be put to rest. The divide between Old and New is also evident in the romantic aspects of the story. Sabriel’s growing up in the New Kingdom is symbolic of the new values that modern women have, whilst the Old Kingdom certainly makes use of the popular saying “chivalry isn’t dead.”

The Abhorsen’s ability to walk into death not only makes for some awesome action scenes, but it makes for this story’s most emotionally poignant moments.  In order to retrieve her father, Sabriel will have to travel to death to go and find him. It’s this part of the story that really made it for me. If you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one in your life, than this trilogy is a great go-to for finding solace. For everyone else, the concepts, the emotional intensity, and the worldbuilding make Sabriel such a fulfilling read.

Score: 9.3

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