Monday, December 29, 2014

REVIEW: Sabriel by Garth Nix
Original Publication Year: 1995
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Series: Abhorsen #1
Awards: Aurealis Award for Fantasy Novel and Young Adult Novel
Format: Audio and in print
Narrated by: Tim Curry

I’ve decided, based with an n=2*, that the most imaginative writers of young adult fiction are Australian.  They certainly make me the happiest and I love the way they see the world.   With Sabriel, Garth Nix has created a beautiful and vivid fictional world and placed within it a fast paced and exciting adventure story.  It is lovely and charming, and scary and suspenseful and romantic and pretty much everything you want in YA Fantasy.

Sabriel Abhorsen is 18 and just finishing up her schooling in Ancelstierre when a messenger comes from her father bearing his sword and bandolier of bells.  As we learn very quickly, Sabriel is a powerful though inexperienced magician and necromancer who was born under unusual circumstances in The Old Kingdom.  Her father is also a powerful necromancer and in order to protect her he sent her away to the less dangerous (and less magical) Ancelstierre when she was five to attend school.  Unfortunately he now appears to be in very serious trouble and Sabriel sets off to find and help him despite her inexperience and woeful lack of knowledge of The Old Kingdom.  Her quest will see her chased by all manner of dead things, rescuing a prince who has been turned to wood, and sparring with a cantankerous cat who is really a magical and possibly dangerous creature that has been bound in Cat form. 

The world that is created is complex, imaginative and easily pictured.  Ancelstierre is reminiscent of Georgian era England while the Old Kingdom seems more Rennaissance.  The two countries are separated by a wall and while there is some leakage around the edges, Ancelstierre is a country of science and technology while the Old Kingdom is governed by magic.  The Old Kingdom has also been falling into anarchy for 200 years and the denizens of Death have started to take over more and more of the kingdom.  As Sabriel learns, Abhorsen is an official title for a necromancer who serves as one of the protectors of the Old Kingdom and she is the heir apparent with her father missing.  The Abhorsen is meant to keep the world from being overrun by creatures escaping Death.  The Abhorsen keeps the dead at bay, by using a series of bells all with different properties.  It is seriously cool and very well used in the story.

The characters were also pretty great and believable.  Sabriel is very recognizable as an exceptionally brave, but bewildered teen who recognizes her weaknesses but doesn’t lack confidence.  In fact she can be a little overconfident as teenagers are prone to be at times. She’s a good strong female character and her relationship with her father is pretty heartbreaking.   Mogget serves as her sidekick/mentor for much of the story and has a personality suitable for a talking cat and also presents many mysteries.  If I have any complaints, it is that most of the rest of the characters - Touchstone, Kerrigor–don’t get developed as much as I would’ve liked, mostly because the book covers a lot of ground and moves quickly.  It’s not until you sit down to write about the characters that you realize that Touchstone is good and likeable but a tad generic and Kerrigor is a little one dimensional. 

There is a little romance as well which is nice. It’s a little abrupt but I appreciated that the narrative wasn’t overly focused on it and there was very little angst.   

I listened to the first half of the book narrated by Tim Curry and he was as amazing as you would imagine.  He also had the perfect voice and tone for this type of story.  I was really bummed when I had to return the audio book to the library because it was requested.

 I have in the past read and really enjoyed Garth Nix’s short fiction and his middle-grade series The Keys to the Kingdom so the Abhorsen series has been pretty prominent on my TBR for a while.  I am so glad I finally started it and that it did not disappoint in any way! 

Final Verdict:  A fast paced YA adventure story with unique and imaginative world building.  I think it’s safe to say Garth Nix has a distinctive style and I am definitely a fan. 

*The second Australian young adult author I encountered this year was D.M. Cornish and his Monster Blood Tattoo series was super imaginative and a favorite.

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