Sabriel by Garth NixSabriel is classic fantasy book that has been on my reading list since 2011 (according to my Goodreads). Basically, I knew I wanted to read it since I first read the blurb, but for whatever reason, I didn't give it the attention I knew it deserved. Until now. Having finished the audio version yesterday - narrated by the fantastic Tim Curry - I find myself wondering: WHAT WAS I THINKING not reading this sooner? WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME? WHAT IS LIFE? Gah! Yes, this book is THAT good. I officially have a new favorite on my hands, and that hasn't happened in a long time.
Published 1995 by HarperCollins
Ever since she was a tiny child, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the random power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won't stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and to find him Sabriel must cross back into the nine Gates and Precincts of Death. Though her journey begins alone, she soon finds companions: Mogget, whose seemingly harmless feline form hides a powerful-and perhaps malevolent-spirit, and Touchstone, a younger Charter Mage imprisoned two centuries in a wooden ship-head, still trapped by painful memories. With threats on all sides and only each other to trust, the three must travel deep into the Old Kingdom, toward a battle against vicious Hands, Mordicants, and the evil Kerrigor.
Sabriel is the kind of fantasy story I live for. Why? Because it's brilliantly and realistically plotted. There are intense, edge of your seat scenes, perfectly mixed into those slower, more normal moments, which other people might find slow, but I found that it made the story feel more concrete and plausible, despite being a straight up fantasy read. Let's face it: life isn't always action and suspense. Life is made up of moments. Some are intense and others are more ordinary but it's those simple moments that make the big, poignant moments stand out all the more! There's a sense of urgency that's woven into every single aspect of this story and that builds all the more within those dark moments, until you feel like you're going to jump out of your skin. I won't go into the finer details here, because I want to let the story speak for itself, but to say that I was captivated from the word go would be an understatement.
Beyond the plot, Sabriel boasts an intensely atmospheric tone that wraps itself around you and takes you for one hell of a ride. It's dark, dangerous and outright scary at times. I know it's considered to be a YA book, but Sabriel is an 18 year old young woman and I found that the plot and tone both reflected that more mature YA-feel. Beyond the character's age, the magical system reflected a greater maturity as well, incorporating unique magic, psychic abilities and above all, necromancy. There are good necromancers who help usher the dead spirits into death (like Sabriel herself), and then there are vile necromancers who can do anything from possess dead bodies, spirits and even, in extreme cases, fashion themselves into immortal beings of pure evil. Beyond the mystery of the necromantic aspects, the magical system works with sounds. A necromancer has special bells, whose sounds have different powers, but in a pinch, they can whistle the notes to the same effect. I found this to be quite innovative and unlike most magical systems I've encountered in my fantasy reads.
Let's talk more about our heroine here. Sabriel is a young adult with a level head and a strong sense of what's right and wrong. She came off as something entirely different from all of the other main characters I've ever encountered which seems increasingly rare nowadays. She wasn't soft by any means, but she wasn't too hard either. She had a warm heart but she never let it cloud her judgement or stop her from doing what needs to be done. Sabriel, being one of the good necromancers, can sense death. She can travel from our realm into the realm of the dead, where the spirits reside. Since a very young age, her father, one of the most powerful good necromancers in existence has been teaching her the ways of the dead. It soon becomes obvious why this girl seems so mature - she's obviously had much of her innocence taken from her at an early age by the sobering reality of death. Despite that, she remains kind and caring of the people around her.
As the blurb above says, Sabriel sets off on her quest alone. I admired the hell out of her for that, especially since you don't often encounter that in YA fiction, especially when the main character is a female. She faces more than one harrowing ordeal before she finally gets herself a few traveling companions. First there's Mogget, a magical white cart, who isn't really a cat at all. Knowing me, I'm sure none of you will be surprised at my love for Mogget. He was snarky and sassy and quite frankly, scary at times but he was a joy to get to know through and through. Eventually, they meet up with a young man called Touchstone, who I loved as well. Touchtone is something of a mystery but I like how he and Sabriel slowly warmed up to one another and became great allies.
As any quality questing story, Sabriel has quite a few twists and turns before the end, and I adored every second of it! This is a story surrounded by death, but it managed to carry a lot of light within it as well. The story has a lot of darkness, but it was sweet and sad and clever all at once. I laughed, I teared up on more than one occasion but through it all, I was hooked. I know that I'm incredibly late to the party with this one, but I also know that a lot of fellow fantasy lovers have yet to read this one as well. All I can say to that is: READ.THIS.BOOK. You have no idea what you're missing! I honestly can't praise the story enough, and I know my words aren't doing it justice but nevertheless I want EVERYONE to read this book! This was my first experience with author Garth Nix, but I can assure you all that it won't be the last. In fact, I plan on diving into the sequel very soon.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars