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Sabriel

Style: Average

Attitude: Take Care → Fairly Positive

This review was contributed by Cliff C & Tim G

In Brief: Conventional heroic valour and loyalty. Sisterly gentleness of an older girl with younger ones. Brief mention of sexual topics and an overheard sexual encounter. Concepts of necromancy and journeying between Death and Life. Considerable loss of life and gruesome injury in the final battle.

Cover of Sabriel

Author: Garth Nix

Age Range: Young Teens+

Period: Indeterminate

Genres:  AdventureFantasy


Characters:

  • Sabriel is the 18-year-old daughter of Abhorsen (a name and a job) who has been brought up at school and has little of her father's experience. When she learns that he has been trapped, she must set out to free him and to defeat the Evil which trapped him.
  • Moggett is a Free Magic being, kept bound in the form of a cat, in which form he helps the Abhorsen.
  • Touchstone is a remnant of the Royal Family which used to rule the Old Kingdom. Released from his 200 years' imprisonment by Sabriel, he journeys with her as she fights the enemy which he helped to unleash.
  • Kerrigor is an evil but powerful Mage, who attempts to destroy the Great Charters whose magic guards the Old Kingdom from the corruption of the Dead.

Synopsis:

Sabriel, 18-year-old daughter of the Mage Abhorsen, has to free her father and defeat his enemy before taking on his roles and responsibilities. She is helped by Moggett, a magical being trapped in the form of a cat, and Touchstone, captive for more than 200 years. The Dead of the Old Kingdom are being brought into life by a powerful Mage from the Seventh Door beyond Life, and Sabriel, Touchstone and the soldiers of Ancelstierre must use what few chances they have of defeating him.

The land in which the story takes place is split. On one side of the wall is a 1950s-style England (Ancelstierre), with girls' boarding schools (offering Magic as extra tuition), a County Constabulary, salt-of-the-earth foot soldiers, and hill-cairns near picturesque villages. On the other side is the Old Kingdom, sliding into misrule, besieged by the Dead, magically protected by the Great Charters which are under siege from powerful undead creatures, and populated by magic-wielding Charter Mages, necromancers, scavengers and downtrodden peasants.

Beyond death are seven Gates, each one further along the river of Death, reachable only by those like the Abhorsen who can leave their physical body behind and travel down the river and still return, bringing back to Life anyone's spirit which has not travelled beyond the Seventh Gate.

Notes:

I didn't expect necromancy to be a particularly positive subject matter and I guess I was right. It is not objectionable, however; just not very inspiring. He deals with the tale well, and it is certainly imaginative and well written. The diction is clear and precise, though it is often hard to follow what is being described since it is a bit fantastical. The story line is straightforward and everything nicely ties in eventually. On occasions he mentions 'adult' topics ('menstruation', 'contraception', 'penis') and in each case gratuitously. In one scene, Sabriel tries not to overhear the sounds of a casual sexual encounter in the next room.

It is all a bit of a nightmare world (dead sucking the life out of the living, scavengers sacrificing children, a world about to collapse) and the story hops from one danger to another. All the old ingredients are there (I had to wait to page 100 before the word 'dragon' appeared!) and all pretty old hat. There is the wall separating two kingdoms, the heroes and baddies in bold colours, the young heroine seeking her father, the silly romance inevitably waiting for the first kiss, and the ever-present cat being a strange magical creature.

The young heroine has the expected characteristics of bravery and loyalty to her friends, her father, and the people she's bound to protect. Even though she herself is little prepared in practice for what she has to face, Sabriel bears her responsibilities seriously and courageously. Her friends, her father, and the soldiers whose help she enlists also exhibit a down-to-earth courage when it comes to facing a powerful enemy which they have only a slim hope of defeating.

However, they're not much in the way of characters, mostly one-dimensional. The structure of the story was clear from the word go, and I was waiting for it to finish in the obvious way, as it duly did - all a bit trite. That said, the climax was well handled. I suppose a necromancer fighting great evil with little bells is a bit unusual but the magical swords have their fair share of the action!

All in all, a fantasy novel trying too hard to declare itself a masterpiece in children's literature.

Thursday 1st February 2007