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Posted on Thursday, October 23, 2008 in Books, Fantasy, Reviews, Young Adult Books

I’m really glad I discovered the book Sabriel by the Australian author Garth Nix. After I’d read that, there was a sequel – Lirael and by then I was keeping my fingers crossed the next book in the trilogy would be out soon. I don’t remember how long I had to wait, but it wasn’t too long, I think.

All three books are fantastic. Well written, imaginative and filled with detail. I especially love the maps and the culture. The world Sabriel comes from is credible and even in a way realistic.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m beginning to get a little tired of the typical ‘sword and sorcery’ fake-medieval setting in fantasy stories. That doesn’t mean I can’t be hooked by an exceptionally well written story if it happens to be like that.

It’s just that if there is another well written story with a kind of late 18, early 19 century setting, I generally prefer it. I also like 20th and 21th century settings in fantasy books. Some of those might come across as a sort of mix between science fiction and fantasy. Normally I’m not too keen on modern SF, but this sort of thing usually works for me.

Back to Sabriel. In the first book, she’s a young girl, who’s still at boarding school – boarding school, because her father is the Abhorsen – a sort of good necromancer – in any case a man with strong magical powers. He lives in a sort of magic world that – literally – exists next to the ‘modern’ world – in this case a sort of early 20th century one. When I say literally, I mean that there’s a border – a real border – you can cross to enter the world of magic. The borderland between modern and magic is sort of special.

Technology doesn’t work very well, so the soldiers watching the border can’t use their rifles there. Instead they use bayonets and other blades. Depending on how the wind blows, strange, dangerous creatures can cross into the ‘modern’ world and the soldiers are there to prevent them from doing so.

Sabriel herself has entered the kingdom of the dead learning necromancy from her father. At least she’s gone beyond the first gates. Further on, it gets trickier. She can – in theory – wake the dead or at least call back their spirits, but she’s not supposed to do that. It’s too dangerous.

Still, when a rabbit belonging to a little girl from Sabriel’s school, is hit by a car, Sabriel can’t resist bringing it back. No danger follows on that, but soon enough danger seeks out Sabriel anyway.

She’s studying ‘ordinary’ magic at her school, which isn’t too far from the border. Her teacher is called ‘magistrix’ which to me sounds like a cool title. Only the older girls are allowed to take magic, but naturally, Sabriel is already skilled in various types of magic.

When danger comes to seek her out, she has to return beyond the border and try to stop the evil that has crossed over from another dimension. A strange cat creature helps her. It’s really a demon that’s been trapped by an earlier Abhorsen. He’s quite reluctant to help, but is bound to obey the Abhorsen or the Abhorsen-in-training.

There are plenty of ‘undead’ – something that I’m not too keen on – a mysterious sleeping person, swords and bells and all kinds of magic in this story. I won’t tell you too many details about the actual plot, but it’s certainly not for very young children. Certain parts of the story scared me and I was relatively grown up when I read it.

Sabriel is a heroine to my taste. She’s tough, but not cruel and she has integrity. It’s clear that she’s made of the ‘right stuff’ to succeed her father when that day comes.

If you think you’d like a slightly different fantasy world, go on. Read Sabriel. If you like the first book, I’m sure you’ll like the two sequels.

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