Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Garth Nix


Sabriel is something of a zombie fantasy, set in a world that's part modern, part medieval. The country of Ancelstierre is divided from the Old Kingdom by a large wall. On the Ancelstierre side, normality reigns and technology such as cars and guns can work unhindered. It's not a civilisation that's quite as advanced as our own, but it's on the way there.

Yet on the side of the Old Kingdom the dead walk and terrorise the living, magic is a powerful force and swords are more reliable than guns. Sabriel is the daughter of Abhorsen, a respected and feared mage who specialises in sending the dead back into death. By the age of 18 Sabriel herself is able to raise a dead rabbit with little more than a thought and a gesture.

When Sabriel gets a message that indicates her father is trapped in death, she knows she has to make a journey into the Old Kingdom to free him and discover why he was trapped. But as she gets deeper into her journey it becomes clear that the Charter magic that protects the people of this country is failing, and the Old Kingdom is turning into a realm of the dead.

On her journey she's joined by Mogget, a Free Magic entity in the shape of a cat. Free Magic and Necromancy are in opposition to Charter Magic, and whilst the author doesn't go into much detail about the different kinds of magic it's clear that Free Magic and Necromancy are the most dangerous and destructive forms.

Sabriel also discovers and frees Touchstone, a handsome young man who had spent the past 200 years or so as a wooden figurehead. He has a guilty secret, and knows more than most about the events that have led to the current state of affairs.

Sabriel is a novel full of strange magic, various species of dead which refuse to stay down and often prey on the living, and a variety of magical creatures and constructs. It's a vividly painted environment, compelling because it's significantly different from anything that has gone before in fantasy literature. There's some romance, as well as the constant threat of otherworldly danger, in this intriguing story. There's certainly no concession made to lower reading ages, so in spite of the fact that this is marketed as a children's book it isn't exclusively for kids. In terms of depth it has more in common with the work of Philip Pullman than with any books for younger readers. Sabriel is a convincing heroine who you will want to read more about, and this is one supernatural fantasy that won't leave you cold.

Book Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
    Female Protagonist  

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Garth Nix