Sabriel by Garth Nix

cover image

The handsome cover of the hard back 25th anniversary edition of the award-winning Sabriel (Aurealis Award) enticed me to re-read this classic fantasy, and from then I had to re-read the whole Old Kingdom series, despite having a tottering tower of books to be read. Sabriel is a young woman spending her last year at boarding school in Ancelstierre, when she feels that her father is in danger and knows she must go back to the Old Kingdom in search of him. Her father is the Abhorsen and has the power to lay to rest the Dead. She is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, beginning her training with bells and magical sword to one day take over the onerous duties of her father. Arriving in the magical kingdom Sabriel’s quest leads her and her companions into danger as she follows the trail of broken Charter Stones and a very evil enemy.

Nix’s world building is wonderful. The contrast between Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom is vividly described. When Sabriel ventures into Death, I held my breath at the danger she faces in this strange place, while the Dead creatures are very frightening. Not only is the world unique, the use of magic is also original. Seven bells can control the Dead, and each has a distinct personality and the idea of Charter magic, with all its shining marks, is fascinating.

There is adventure galore, but Sabriel is a heroine who doesn’t rush into danger thoughtlessly. She has self-doubts, but it is her determination and courage that keeps her on her quest to find her father and defend the Old Kingdom. The companions that she gathers along the way include Touchstone, the young prince that she awakens and Mogget, an ancient spirit forced to live as a cat. These are fully realised characters while Kerrigor is a frightening villain. Mogget’s wry asides and clever says bring some light relief when events are dark and threatening.

 This is fantasy at its best and The Old Kingdom is a series that should be in every library.

Themes: Fantasy, Good and evil, Quests, Magic.

Pat Pledger