This past weekend, I recorded a podcast episode discussing the book Sabriel by Garth Nix. I thought it only fitting that I talk about it here as well.
This book was recommended to me by the book club over at the Mallorean Tavern (which I moderate, by the way – come see us!). I’m so glad it was nominated, otherwise I probably would have never picked this book up. I had never heard of it before, and I had never heard of the author either. Now, I feel obliged to go find the other books in this series immediately.
Well, not immediately. The library isn’t open yet. But I’m stopping there after work!
The story follows a young girl named Sabriel, who was rescued from death as a baby by a strange man called Abhorsen. He says that he saved her because she is his daughter. It’s all very mysterious, right at the beginning, and you do wonder who this man is and whether or not he is truly her father. But that turns out to be the case. It also turns out that Abhorsen is a necromancer, charged with keeping the land of Ancelstierre free from the spirits of the Dead who wander over the Wall from the Old Kingdom.
When Sabriel is in her last year of school, she receives a messenger who delivers to her Abhorsen’s sword and his bandolier, which holds the different bells that are used in necromancy. Sabriel realizes that he has been captured and imprisoned in Death and sets out to travel to the Old Kingdom to find out what happened. Thus begins the big journey, where she learns many things, not just about the Old Kingdom, but about herself.
For starters, her father’s name is not Abhorsen. Abhorsen is his title. Several times, Sabriel is referred to as “the Abhorsen,” which she hates. For some reason, this bothered me. It’s a small detail, but I wanted to know what her father’s name was. You know, before he became “the Abhorsen.” I suppose it doesn’t matter in the long run, but I still want to know!
While traveling through the Old Kingdom, Sabriel discovers that the great Charter Stones, set in place to regulate magic, have been damaged. At one of these broken stones, Sabriel finds that she is being pursued by a being called a Mordicant, sent from Death to stop her. She rushes to her father’s house in the Old Kingdom, where she is safe, and where she meets one of my favorite parts of the book – Mogget. Mogget is a cat. Except that he’s not. He wears a collar which keeps him nice and subservient, but Sabriel learns his true feelings once the collar is taken off. Mogget is no ordinary housecat, but a strange being made of pure Free Magic. And he’s none too happy about being chained and serving generations of Abhorsens. Once Sabriel gets the collar back on, he’s a perfectly calm housecat again, but it was very tense having this quiet kitty along, knowing full well that all he wanted to do was rip Sabriel’s head off. As they escape the Abhorsen’s house, they discover Touchstone, a young man who was trapped half in life, half in death for 200 years. I won’t give anything away about his story, but together with Sabriel (and reluctantly, Mogget), they go forth to find Sabriel’s father and try to defeat a Greater Dead by the name of Kerrigor.
There were so many cool things about this book. I loved the way they did the necromancy, with several bells of varying size and sound. The magic system was very interesting, with the variations between Charter Magic and Free Magic. There was also the contrast between the modern Ancelstierre, with it’s electricity and automobiles, and the Old Kingdom, with it’s castles and magic stones. My library has the next two books, Lirael and Abhorsen, and I will be picking them up this afternoon if at all possible. This was a very exciting read and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.