sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

October 21, 2009

into the stacks: sabriel
posted by soe 3:28 am

Karen and Grey Kitten have suggested that I ought to just start writing up my book reviews. I figure if I start with the most recent and work my way backwards, I at least have a shot at offering insights into what I’ve just read, rather than not remembering details of any of this year’s books…

Sabriel, by Garth Nix

From the jacket: “Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death — and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.”

My take: Dark fantasy is generally not a realm of fiction I choose to pursue. But I was in need of something to read at work one lunch hour, and Sabriel was sitting on the discard cart at the office. It looked promising, but I wasn’t wowed by the prologue. Later, though, I saw it mentioned as a young adult fantasy novel with a particularly strong female character and decided to give it another shot. I’m glad I did.

Sabriel is the teenage daughter of the Abhorsen, the necromancer in charge of protecting the Old Kingdom from the Dead (who sometimes refuse to stay dead). Sent to school in Ancelstierre (a land much like an early 20th-century England) on the other side of the border from the Old Kingdom), she doesn’t see much of her father. When he does visit her, though, he shares with her his knowledge of Charter Magic, the strong force which keeps the dead at bay, and of walking in Death. As she ages, her father increases his visits but appears to her mostly in a less corporeal way.

Until one night, when he fails to appear when expected. Instead, a golem materializes in the school, bearing her father’s sword and the bells of Death to her. Realizing that the Abhorsen would never part willingly with those items, she sets out to the Old Kingdom to rescue her father from whatever has trapped him somewhere between Life and Death.

Pursued by the Dead, their zombie-like minions, and their slaves, she arrives at the family homestead only to find that the supernatural servants there, including Mogget, a cat who isn’t really a cat, believe her father dead and greet her as the new Abhorsen. Mogget reminds her that her sworn familial duty is to protect the kingdom and to vanquish the Dead, not to mount rescue missions. With these two obligations vying for her loyalty and with the Dead dismantling the kingdom, Sabriel must figure out how to save the world — and her father — before it’s too late.

Carl is once again hosting his annual Halloween-themed read-along, the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge IV. Sabriel qualifies under the dark fantasy category and puts me halfway toward my Peril the Second quest.

Pages: 311

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