Sabriel by Garth Nix

SabrielSabriel by Garth Nix (#1 in the Old Kingdom series) (HarperCollins Children's, first published 1995)

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The only thing I could think of when I finished reading SABRIEL was, why didn't I read this sooner? This is exactly the kind of book I loved and devoured as a child. Full of magic and adventure, and journeys across a fantasy land.

Sabriel goes to a boarding school in Ancelstierre, not far from the Wall which separates Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom. Ancelstierre is much like our world (sort of an alternate England in the 1910s), a world mostly without magic unless you're really close to the Wall, because the Old Kingdom is where magic happens. Sabriel comes from the Old Kingdom but she has grown up in Ancelstierre. Her father is Abhorsen, a man who works to undo the evils wrought by necromancers. One day, however, when Sabriel is eighteen years old, her father does not appear for one of his regular visits to Sabriel's school. A messenger comes in his place, giving Sabriel her father's sword and bells: the equipment that he used for his work. Fearing the worst but hoping to find out what has happened to him, Sabriel crosses the Wall into the Old Kingdom, only to discover a land where evil has long been brewing...

SABRIEL is a fast-paced and action-filled novel, with a unique and well thought-out magic system involving music. The seven bells are used by necromancers and the Abhorsen alike, each bell with its particular function: for example, the bell Saraneth binds spirits. One can also sing or whistle magic.

Along her journey, Sabriel picks up two companions: a talking cat called Mogget, and a man called Touchstone. The first is in fact a dangerous creature of Free Magic, bound long, long ago to be a servant of the Abhorsen. The second is a man that Sabriel freed from a wooden figurehead on a ship in the burial place of the Kings and Queens of the Old Kingdom, a man trapped there by magic two hundred years ago, back when the Old Kingdom was still prospering and ruled by the royal family. A romance eventually blossoms between Sabriel and Touchstone, which was sweet and moving, if a little under-developed.

I loved how competent and brave Sabriel was. She was only just eighteen and confronted with the news of her father's disappearance and possible death, she never really hesitates for a moment, but she just keeps forging on, through dangers and despair. I really admired her.

Though we sadly don't get to see much of Sabriel's father in this book, his relationship with his daughter was still really beautifully portrayed, and the most moving moments in this book stem from the love between father and daughter. I was almost in tears at one point.

The ending felt quite rushed to me. I also wished there had been more character development. I never felt like I really got to know the characters very well, although I still came to like them and care about them. Nix doesn't really spend time dwelling on how the characters feel, even though Sabriel and Touchstone are both going through quite a difficult time, Sabriel especially, and I would have liked to see more space dedicated to her feelings. Still, I felt like Nix was quite good at showing rather than telling, and though things are left unsaid, they nevertheless left some sort of subtle emotional impression on me.

SABRIEL is definitely an enjoyable novel for anyone who loves high fantasy and coming-of-age stories. It is a book about grief and loss, about growing up and learning to find your own way, when your parents are gone. It's also just a fantastic and magical adventure.

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8 thoughts on “Sabriel by Garth Nix

  1. So... I've only really read one book by Garth Nix, and I didn't even finish it (it was Mister Monday, I think?), so I haven't been all that interested in his other books, to be honest. :P But damn, I've heard A LOT about Sabriel, mostly positive stuff, so I'm glad that you enjoyed it too! Now that I'm reading your review -- and actually taking the time to read the blurb of the book -- it sounds right up my alley. Fast-paced? YES. Original magic ideas? GIMME.

    Seriously though, magic + music sounds like a really unique combination. I'm interested to see how it plays out!

    And gosh, I'm loving how Sabriel sounds like already. I have a feeling she and I are going to be very good friends. I like that she's both badass and admirable at the same time. Not your usual angsty and broken kind of heroine we see so often in YA books these days. It'll definitely be refreshing to read from her point of view.

    Great review, Cynthia! I wasn't that interested in reading this before, but I am now! :D

    And, uh, weird fact, but: I always thought Sabriel was a guy. So it was a bit disorienting now to find out that he's actually a she! xD

    1. SABRIEL was the first book by Garth Nix I've read! I don't really like the sound of his other books, tbh. I only decided to read SABRIEL because I'd heard it was a good fantasy series with great female characters, and I'm always up for that! Reading the reviews on Goodreads, I feel like the Old Kingdom series is probably his best. You should definitely give it a go! :D

      I LOVE SABRIEL. BUT LIRAEL WHO IS THE HEROINE OF THE SECOND AND THIRD BOOK OF THE SERIES IS EVEN COOLER, IMO. Admittedly, Lirael's a tiny bit more angsty but I feel like that makes her slightly more relatable, in a way. Also the next two books has a talking dog and the talking dog is the BEST CHARACTER EVER OMG.

      Haha, I know, Sabriel does sound like a male name. Because it's like Gabriel, I suppose?

  2. Melanie (YA Midnight Reads)

    Ooh I remember seeing this book around a lot last year because the author came down to Australia but I didn't know how awesome this author until he left ._. Anyways, I really do wanna give this series a go, Sabriel sounds like an admirable character indeed!

    Fantastic review, Cynthia <33

    1. I think the author is Australian and lives in Australia, doesn't he? Lol idk. But yeah, last year a prequel to this series came out, so I think the hype around the series was revived a little again and that's what got me interested in reading this. AND THE SECOND AND THIRD BOOKS ARE EVEN BETTER IMO. :D

      Thanks! <3

  3. SABRIELLLLL. I have yet to read the last book in the trilogy BUT I WILL GET TO IT ONE DAY. And gahhhh Mogget is amazing. I don't even care if he's dangerous to me he is adorable. And sarcastic. I'm GLAD YOU'RE CONTINUING WITH THE SERIES! Can't wait to hear your thoughts about Lirael!

    1. DO IT VAL READ THE THIRD BOOK IT'S SO GOOD. All my thoughts about the second and third book basically consist of THE DISREPUTABLE DOG IS SO AMAZING OMG. Lol. I can't really form any coherent thoughts about this series tbh it's just so great. I would never have thought a series with like, a talking cat and a talking dog could be so epic and moving and beautiful because talking cats and talking dogs are usually the stuff of like, silly cartoons, but omg. IT'S SO GREAT.

  4. Okay, so fantasy is not really my thing, but after reading your review, I think... I might enjoy this one.... (it sounds a bit like Harry Potter slash Talisman with a female MC) I like boarding school/road trip/adventure type of stories and it would also help that the world is "much like our world". So yeah, I think I might check this one out :)
    Cayce recently posted Shakespeare&Company

    1. Post author

      Well, Ancelstierre is like our world, but the Old Kingdom is a bit more like your typical fantasy land and that's where 80% of the book is set, and the boarding school element is really minimal; Sabriel goes to a boarding school but she leaves the school at the beginning of the book to go find her father. But it's still an excellent book. I'm not sure whether you'd like it if you don't typically like fantasy. But I just read the synopsis for The Talisman (haven't read the book) and it does sound a little similar to Sabriel! So maybe give it a go?

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