Friday, March 4, 2011

Book Review- Sabriel

I am always on a look out for another series that can ease the pain of my post-Potter depression, and the most recent remedy I tried was the Old Kingdom trilogy by Garth Nix, the first novel being Sabriel. So far Sabriel is the only one I've read of the series, but I'll definitely be making my way to the other two soon. By post-Potter depression remedies, I mean children's fantasy series that are written to be enjoyed by adults as well- but not like the YA books that insult your intelligence. So how does it measure up next to Harry Potter?

So to put in a nutshell what Sabriel is about, the novel is set in a fantasy land where there are two neighboring countries. One is the land of Ancelstierre which is kind of the "new world" of the two- it's got schools, cars, electricity, and other cultural aspects similar to the 20th century. To the north is the Old Kingdom and is separated from Ancelstierre by a heavily guarded border called The Wall. The Old Kingdom is a land where magic can be used and extremely dangerous dead spirits exist. These dead spirits are corpses that have been reanimated called Dead Hands and also powerful supernatural beings known as Free Magic. These dead beings are raised by "Necromancers" who can travel into the gates of death and create Dead Hands to do their bidding. The Abhorsen are a bloodline of Necromancers that fight against this by laying these beings back into death by using magical bells that each have their own unique power.

It took me almost half the book bit until I fully understood the concept of the magic used in this fantasy land. I know not everyone has the patience to mull through until they have a firm grasp on it so I'll quickly explain. The magic is referred to as Charter Magic and derives its powers through a web of magic channeled from "The Charter." The Charter are a group of powerful objects that were created thousands of years ago; it consists of the Great Charter Stones, The Wall (the one that separates Ancelstierre from the Old Kingdom), and three bloodlines. These bloodlines are the royal family, the Abhorsen, and the Clayr (a large sisterhood of blondies that can see the future). The Charter is meant to maintain order on magic from reigning freeling. Charter Mages or members of these magical bloodlines cast Charter spells by summoning symbols called Charter Marks, and combining the different marks to achieve their desired effect.


So Sabriel, our heroine in this novel, is attending school in Ancelstierre at the beginning of the novel. Her father Terciel, who resides in the Old Kingdom, is the current Abhorsen of their time. While at school, Sabriel receives an alarming message from her father in which he sends her his weapons which includes a sword and bells. Sabriel believes her father has been overcome by an incredibly powerful evil entity so immediately leaves for the Old Kingdom to rescue her father. When Sabriel reaches her father's house on a cliff, she finds a created named Mogget. Mogget is a Free Magic construct who has been bound into a form of a white cat by a red Charter collar which forces him to serve the Abhorsen. Mogget joins Sabriel on her journey to the Old Kingdom to find her father and tells her that she is the new Abhorsen, though she refuses to believe it. The two are eventually joined by another companion who calls himself Touchstone. Sabriel and Mogget find Touchstone in an ancient burial ground where he was magically imprisoned as a ship's figurehead for the last 200 years. Touchstones history is a mystery to Sabriel at first but acts like nothing but her loyal servant. The three of them continue on a journey to find Sabriel's father and discover the greater evil at work.

The novel was plush full of innovative magic, creepy dark monsters, wonderful characters, and lots of adventurous trials. The one thing that made this book was Sabriel's incredible bravery and heart. The majority of fantasy series don't feature female characters as a lead and the female characters that do make an appearance typically aren't written well. I think writers should take take a lesson or two from Mr. Nix on how to get into a girl's pysche. She's not written like a uber-tough superwoman or like an over emotional, unreasonable damsel. Instead she's written like an actual human being. She's got real emotions, uses logic, is fearful yet brave, and is very down to earth. The funny thing is, our male counterpart Touchstone was clearly not the one who wore the pants in the relationship. Literally. Touchstone had the kilt while Sabriel had on the armored pants. Touchstone didn't try to hide his weaknesses and is eventually brought out of his shell by Sabriel. Mogget was definitely a favorite of mine in the book. He's is very much that smartass, talking cat character but we are never very sure about him because of the dangerous, blood thirsty Free Magic that resides in him.

I love how this book is still labeled a children's book but doesn't dumb itself down at all for the sake of the audience. If you're not use to reading fantasy novels, everything dealing with the necromancers and charter magic might seem a bit confusing in the beginning, but it all becomes clear and easy to understand once you get into it. It's got a nice, sweet romantic story within it between our heroine and Touchstone. If this were a young adult novel, I feel like the focus of the story would have been the romance which is why I've given up on reading YA novels. It's better when the romance works with the story's plotline instead of it being the focus of the plot. Overall, the book is incredibly innovative and original and exciting. It had everything I was looking for in a post-Potter remedy. An original fantasy world, unique magic, young likeable protagonists, great characters, lovely relationships, and an exciting plot. My only complaint was it ended too fast. Ever since I got my Kindle, I can't really tell the length of books anymore but I felt like plowed through Sabriel too quickly, but that may just be because I couldn't put it down. Now I need to get the next two in the trilogy. I'll be sure to post my review for those when I do!

Final Score- 9/10

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