Review : Sabriel by Nix Garth

The first of the Old Kingdom series, Sabriel is a YA dark fantasy about a young woman trained as a necromancer who, upon lack of news from her father, leaps into his footsteps so as to save him from dangers worse than death. The book creates a very interesting concept in which necromancy and most of the hero’s magic is linked to sound: the dead are controlled with bells and flutes, flight machines are controlled through whistling… I really liked that, as well as the no nonsense, fearless attitude of the heroine, Sabriel.

Sabriel is brought up in a foreign country, one where somehow magic doesn’t work, so as to keep her safe. But when her father doesn’t show himself at the appointed date, and instead she received his bells, she doesn’t hesitate to leave her school and cross the boarder, into unknown territory full of magic, unpredictably cold weather, and she quickly realises: looming death everywhere. Entities have been pillaging the “old kingdom”, destroying cities and killing it’s inhabitants for a nefarious greater dead.

The book took me a long time to read. I don’t know if it’s because of it’s natural pace or because I was so busy lately and was often interrupted. I did find the beginning a little long, I suspect because the main character, Sabriel, is alone, and I was looking forward to her gaining some friends along the way. It’s a cliche, but one that works, especially when everything around is pretty glum. 

Photo by Katia De Juan on Unsplash

The book was in general well written and made me want to read the next volume, but maybe not just right now. I suspect I would have been much more interested in it if I had read it younger. It really manages to transport the reader in it’s universe. Mogget is a very interesting companion, full of ambiguities. I liked the romance was kept as more of a suggestion than anything else. That’s how I used to like it in my teens. And while the fight against the main enemy was very well brought about, the necromancer community at large remain pretty mysterious, especially everything that has to do with free magic, and I do hope it will be elaborated on in the next volumes.

All in all, I am pretty sad I didn’t discover that book until this year, not only is it dark fantasy, but it’s written by an Australian. It’s not a new publication either, it dates from 1996, and I know for a fact if I had had read it then, a YA novel about necromancy, (no less!) it would have blown my mind. I do think I will keep it in the back of my mind for when my children are of age. For the time being I recommend it to all readers of teen fiction who enjoy fantasy with a strong female lead taking on a challenge way bigger than herself (think the Golden Compass), as well as fantasy initiatic journeys such as Half World where the hero plunges into the afterlife to get her mum back.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

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