By Garth Nix
Published by Harper Collins, 1995
Sabriel is an original and entertaining novel from Australian author Garth Nix. Published in 1995 it the first of four books (the Old Kingdom trilogy and a collection of short stories), dealing with a unique fantasy world.
In it two nations are separated by an ancient wall: the magical and fearsome Old Kingdom, and the (somewhat) real world of Ancelstierre. Two centuries before a terrible event in the Old Kingdom skewed the magical forces towards the evil and the dead and now only the Abhorsen serves to hold things at bay. He is described as a kind of reverse necromancer, making sure the dead stay dead. Years before the story starts the Abhorsen sent his daughter Sabriel to be raised in a boarding school in Ancelstierre. The novel starts when she learns her father has died and she must take up the role of Abhorsen in order to defeat a great evil.
I liked the book. In fact, I finished it thinking I should read more YA fiction. I’ve only read the first book, but it seems an original and fully realized world. I appreciated that Nix didn’t feel bound to load up his book with background information—everything really seems to be on a need to know basis—but I have to admit that I sometimes found the characters inability to speak on certain things annoying. Because it’s not really explained, it seems to exist solely to create suspense. One particularly irritating scene was when they realized the bindings—the magical invocations preventing them from speaking on certain topics—were weakened at sea, but only as the characters were come back under their control. “Oh yes! Now I can tell you all about… Too late!” I also liked the decision to avoid danger through sea and air travel. I wonder if Nix was one of the many who asked themselves why Frodo didn’t get to Mount Doom the same way he would later get home again.
While it is the first book of the trilogy Sabriel is very much a stand alone novel. I understand the second book even features other characters.