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Review: Sabriel

Review: Sabriel

So when I was first introduced to Garth Nix, it was in a Reddit thread over on /r/Fantasy where someone was singing the praises of the Abhorsen series, of which this is the first book.  Here's the pitch I saw:

Since childhood, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who refuse to stay dead. But now her father, the Abhorson, is missing, and Sabriel must cross into that world to find him. With Mogget, whose feline form hides a powerful, perhaps malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, Sabriel travels deep into the Old Kingdom. There she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life and comes face-to-face with her own hidden destiny. . . .

For one, I don't usually think it's a good idea to info dump, and probably doubly so on the back cover blurb of your book. The description seemed to me to capture everything I find rather banal in my favorite genre.  A young chosen one separated from her true people. A also young side kick with a mysterious past. Names for things that seem over used: Old Kingdom, Zombie without saying Zombie, Free Magic. Also magic Cats!? ...Ok I actually like magic cats quite a bit. My favorite bits of some recent stuff have been cats that talk. I'll tell you magic cats might be the only reason I decided to give this one a chance.

But I'm glad I did because Sabriel happens to roundly defy all my preconceptions. This is an excellent entry in YA fiction, probably because it was written back when YA wasn't a thing. Ya know back in the golden times of 1995. It leans on it's epic fantasy roots but keeps a steady and lively pace so that our young female main character never has time to dwell on her situation and become overly moody, as often happens in newer releases, and is even to some a defining characteristic of the genre. 

That said if you are coming to this with modern sensibilities of YA for your own preconception you are probably not going to enjoy this one. The epic fantasy roots means there's a lot of world building to had around you, and the plot, thought lively as I said, is often mired in the every complicating layers of the world. Great for someone like me who's happy to consider the implications of a Nine tiered, gated system of death and why the best weapon you can bring is a series of magical bells, I can see why that might bore some people who might be reading.

Indeed the ending of the novel is the culmination of a slew of different levels with an series of events that are well telegraphed. I think though that this is the novels best strength when considered in modern eyes and even when leveled against it's paralleled epic fantasy siblings of the 90s like the Malazan series which is nearly impenetrable for the uninitiated. So I heartily encourage you to read or listen to the works of Garth Nix. I've yet to go deeper in the series but I fully expect to soon, as there is a new one coming out this year.

Sabriel receives three stars out of five.

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