Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: Sabriel

Sabriel by Garth Nix
Abhorsen #1
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 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.

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

24 comments:

  1. Isn't it so freakin' great to have a book on your TBR forever and then be completely taken with it when you finally read it. I am so glad that you enjoyed it!

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    1. It truly is one of the best feelings ever Suzi, you're right! Thank you so much and thanks for stopping by! Xx

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  2. I got Sabriel out once from the library before but that was before I was in a phase where I didn't really feel like reading soooo I never ended up reading it properly. You've made me want to try again! And gorgeous new Australian covers have just been release so what better opportunity to get them ;) (once my buying ban ends anyway)

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    1. Yeah, best not to force it in those cases^^ I hope you WILL try it again Bec, I could really see you liking it a lot too! And YAY shiny new covers :D

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  3. Now you're making me guilty because I ALWAYS end up returning this book to its shelf when I pick it up at the bookstore. D: I love atmospheric AND dark books! And I totally thought Mogget was a cat (one of the reasons why I never did pick this book up) and now I'm less scared to read this book knowing he isn't really a cat. xD Awesome review, lovely!!

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    1. Awww don't feel guilty, just pick it up next time XD It had a wonderfully dark atmosphere and tone - especially for YA! And hey, what's wrong with cats ;P I seriously can't recommend it enough.

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  4. I need to read this soon! I've had it on my Goodreads TBR list for a few years now, too. I own it, and it's just so intimidating because it seems so heavy. But maybe I should get the audiobook. Tim Curry??? That's awesome.

    Sabriel sounds like a really cool character, and I like the fact that there is hope and light in the book even though it has a lot of darkness in it too. Great review, Micheline!

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    1. It's funny how so many of us fantasy readers know about this series, have it on our tbr but never get around to it! If I hadn't seen it available as an audiobook through my library I still wouldn't have read it yet. I didn't realize it was so big until I started listening to it but honestly, it didn't seem long AT ALL because it was SO.GOOD. and the narration was so freaking brilliant :D

      I love Sabriel to pieces, she's a new favorite heroine! And yeah, I was surprised by how dark it was, so the lighter moments were a nice balance. Thank you Andrea^^ xx

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  5. This book has been on my TBR forever too! I really need to make time for it. It sounds amazing and now your review has me even more excited. Great review!

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    1. I hope that you will find time for it Teresa and I'm happy that I got you even more excited about it :D It deserves the attention! Thanks^^ xx

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  6. I think this is probably one of my other half's favourite series EVER, and I remember really loving it too. I recently read Clariel though, and I think it would definitely have benefitted from re-reading the earlier books, so maybe not the best series to put aside for years at a time (mind you, are there many series that do well with such big gaps?!) Great review - and lots of love Mogget <3

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    1. Oh no way, that's awesome! Your other half has fantastic tastes (obviously) ;D Yeah loooonng gaps between books are never great, you tend to forget all the finer details of the previous books and feel all lost and confused - even me with my pretty good memory >.< Thank you Faith and YES, ALL the love for Mogget ♥

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  7. Well, wow. This sounds absolutely amazing! I love fantasy reads that are slow but makes up for it in atmosphere, setting, and characterization, which this book pretty much has for everything! I've heard so much about this one from other people and I'm not certain why I haven't started it yet because damn, you make it sound so good :D Dark fantasy books are totally my thing!

    Faye at The Social Potato

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    1. It really was^^ And I LOVE fantasy reads like that too! I don't need constant action and explosions. To be honest, I find that those kinds of reads can be a little exhausting LOL. And I have no idea why I didn't read this one earlier too but now I'm making it my mission to get everyone who hasn't read it to do so asap :D Thanks Faye, dark fantasy reads are definitely my thing too! Thanks for stopping by ♥

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  8. Yay- I'm so happy that you loved this, Micheline! I see Sabriel pop up so many times on must-read YA fantasy lists, and I *constantly* see it at the library but have always passed it by. And yikes- I didn't even have it on my TBR! That's fixed now because your lovely review has made me very eager to check this out! :D

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    1. Thank you Lee, I am too!! I know it's so weird how this one seems to get overlooked, maybe it's because it's nearly 20 years old? But it's such a classic I have no idea why more people haven't read it yet. In any case, I'm thrilled that you added it to your TBR shelf and now I'm excited to talk about it with you :D

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  9. Oh I am SO HAPPY you loved it! This series was one of my first fantasy loves when I read it as a kid and it just has a special spot in my heart! I actually am planning on rereading it before reading Clariel and started to reread Sabriel a few weeks ago but got side tracked by review books. Will be picking it back up soon! I'm so excited for you to read the rest! :)

    -Wendy @ Book Scents

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    1. Oh Wendy it's a new favorite of mine now! I can't imagine how much love I'd have for it if I'd been lucky enough to read it as a kid like you did^^ Although I found it really dark and creepy at times, even for YA so maybe that's a good thing O.O I'm sorry that Sabriel got sidetracked for you but hopefully you will pick it back up soon :D I'll be reading the next one VERY soon!! ♥

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  10. I tried reading this one but gave up because I think I just wasn't in the mood for a fantasy at the time. I'm going to retry reading it in the future though because I know the series has a lot of fans. I also like that the MC is on the older side and levelheaded.

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    1. That can happen when you're not in the mood to read a certain genre^^It's best just to put it on pause until you're up for it. I do hope you'll give it a chance again at some point though :)

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  11. Oh good for you taking on a book that has been on your tbr for ages!! I should do that more often. Especially because it paid off for you big time! I don't think it would have occurred to me to audio this one as I usually like to physically read high fantasy so that I'm with it every step of the way and don't miss anything. But Tim Curry? OMG! ^_^ So awesome!! I mean, every element that you mention here sounds way awesome just on its own, and then you add Tim Curry into the mix! So I may actually consider going the audiobook route. That is, if I can find the time among all the other series I want to start...

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    1. Oh Aylee, I think you would fall for this story just as hard as I did!! I didn't even know that Tim Curry was the narrator, I was just adding a bunch of new audiobooks for my commute and discovering his voice was an added bonus :) Hopefully you won't wait until you're caught up on ALL the series hehe ;)

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  12. Oh my gosh, I saw that this was on your top 10 reads of the year so far, and I had to come flail! This is one of my favorite series of all time! I read it in elementary school and have been DYING to reread for ages. I'm so going to have to find the audio, because Tim Curry is wonderful. I'm just so excited for you!!

    Rachel @ Paper Cuts

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    1. Eeeeep! I don't blame you one bit for loving this one for so long^^ it's definitely a new favorite of mine ♥ Gah! I hope that you get to reread it soon...or listen to it on audio :D YAY, I'm happy to chat with another lover of this series!!

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