Abhorsen by Garth Nix (#3 in the Old Kingdom series) (HarperCollins Children's, first published in 2003)
This review contains spoilers for the first two books of the series.
Oh, ABHORSEN. I finished you at 1am and sobbed for at least 15 minutes.
An ancient evil, imprisoned since the dawn of time, is on the verge of being freed. Lirael and Sam, followed by their companions, the Disreputable Dog and Mogget, are the only ones who have a chance to stop it from destroying the world before it's too late. But Nick, Sam's best friend, is being controlled against his will and unknowingly by a shard of the evil within his body – can Lirael and Sam possibly save the world and Nick at the same time?
Oh my god, this book had such a heart-stopping and cruel beginning. Almost as cruel as the ending, but not quite. Seriously, ABHORSEN was just so intense and gripping throughout, I couldn't put it down and read it in a day.
The Disreputable Dog! I continue to have so. many. goddamn. feelings. about the Disreputable Dog. She is just amazing. For me, she counts as a heroine of the series as much as Sabriel or Lirael does. She fights by Lirael's side, and she's just such a fiercely loyal friend, and there's a lot more to her than meets the eye. Honestly, I don't know how this happened but a dog is now possibly my favourite character in YA ever. If only we could all have a friend like the Disreputable Dog.
I complained about SABRIEL that Nix didn't really spend enough time describing how the characters were feeling, but I felt like ABHORSEN was much better on that front, and things felt less rushed too, because all the build-up was in LIRAEL, and the ending sort of really stretches over the whole of the ABHORSEN. It was perfect and well-paced, and there were enough quiet moments in the book that I felt like I had spent some time with each of the main characters, listening to their thoughts and how they felt as the world threatened to collapse around them. I felt so connected to Lirael. She's so brave and so determined, despite her fears, now that she's finally found her path.
I felt so sorry for Nick throughout, who was just really an innocent Ancelstierrian who got dragged into Hedge's plans and got put through so much pain and confusion and trauma in this book. NICK. I've loved him since LIRAEL, when he just charged ahead without any second thought to try and defeat the necromancer on his own when Sam was incapacitated, but I loved him even more in this book. Seriously, he was so brave and he fought so hard! And he fought because he had talked to Lirael and Lirael had told him to remember who he was. I absolutely adore him. I loved him and Lirael meeting each other and talking to each other, telling each other random things about themselves so Nick can hold on to his humanity even as his will is being suppressed by the shard of evil within him. It was so lovely and heartbreaking.
The ending is heartrendingly beautiful. I absolutely loved it. It made me cry so hard, and it hurt so so much. This is honestly such a wonderful series about life and death, about growing up and finding yourself, about loving and losing.