The Abhorsen Trilogy: Sabriel
Written By: Garth Nix
Published By: Eos
Reviewed by Frank L. Ocasio
You grew up without a family for the most part because your single parent was always busy with work. He sent you off to boarding school to learn everything a young lady should know, but he also prepared you to reap the souls of the newly un-dead with the seven bells of a necromancer.
Does this sound like your life? If so, you're probably going to love Sabriel, the first installment of Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy. If not, you're probably male. And you're going to love Sabriel anyway. It's that good. Let me explain.
Sabriel is a necromancer in training; to be specific, she's the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. The Abhorsen is the single good necromancer whose job it is to stop the nasty baddies of other, evil necromancers. The Abhorsen does this with the tools of the necromantic trade, a set of seven bells, each of which have names, duties, and--somehow, even though they never speak or do anything else that would instantly be cheesy--they have personalities. Don't let this put any horrible ideas in your head though--Sabriel's not some gun toting badass or leather clad vixen who is eventually going to fall in love with one of the undead she's hunting. Seriously, just no--this is not hunter fiction, and Sabriel's not, by any means, a hunter. She's just like you! Or if you're a guy, your sister!... Or if you don't have a sister... Well, some woman that you know who isn't a badass but who you love anyway... You get the idea.
We join Sabriel as she's finishing her final year at her all girl's school in Ancelstierre, a world only slightly less technologically advanced than our own, where magic rarely works--and so, where her father, the Abhorsen never is. He works up North in the Old Kingdom instead, where undead beings of darkness walk through a kingdom destroyed long ago by the hands of Kerrigor, a powerful necromancer from days long gone. Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom are divided by the Wall, a barrier guarded by Ancelstierran soldiers and a mess of warding spells.
On one of her last nights at the boarding school, however, something makes it through the Wall and finds Sabriel's school. I know what you're thinking--it's exactly what I thought: the undead have found a way to invade Ancelstierre and only Sabriel can stop them! But seriously, just no. We were both totally wrong, because Garth Nix isn't that predictable. When Sabriel confronts the dead creature, she realizes immediately that it's being controlled by her father... from the realm of Death, where it appears he's been trapped. Sabriel realizes that this means her father is supernaturally snared between the fabrics of life and the after life, and that she only has a short time to find his vacant body in the Old Kingdom if she wants to save him. But where is he? And what enemy could be powerful enough to do this to him?
Look at you. You're drooling to know already.
You should keep in mind that Sabriel is styled like YA--big letters--but it's less YA than Harry Potter is, so you won't feel like an idiot reading it, even when you meet Sabriel's companion Mogget--an all white, talking house cat. Believe it or not, because of how well Nix handles dialogue and characters, and because nothing's ever obvious and simple in the Garth Nix Abhorsen Trilogy, you're going to love Mogget. You're going to want your own Mogget. You're possibly going to get an all white house cat and name him Mogget.
In short, the action and dialogue work in perfect harmony throughout Sabriel, and every bit of the book is just about as far from simple contrivance as fantasy novels can get. There will be no old wizard who tells Sabriel what to do, no dragons, no magical sword that will save the day, and Sabriel will always, truly be two seconds from death (and sometimes actually standing in Death... I may have forgotten to mention that Abhorsens can go there when they please). If you love fantasy novels, you'll love Sabriel. And if you love Harry Potter but don't like any other fantasy novel, pick Sabriel up anyway because when you can finally put it down, it'll be going right next to the Boy That Lived on your top shelf.
One more thing before I quit: In the passionate rush that is reading a really awesome fantasy novel, one sometimes forgets to check the publication date of what they're reading. In fact, good books usually earn a timeless quality--for first time readers, they're always brand new. Sabriel is 12 years old though, which means she actually predates the young Mr. Potter. What does this mean? Sabriel was amazing for it's time--and is honestly way better than Sorcerer's Stone. And--the best part--because Sabriel was written before Harry Potter existed, it's 100% Potter Clone Free. No Barry Zotter or Garry McWizardFace kids here, because Garth Nix isn't a YA hack. You're in good hands. Trust me.