Review – Sabriel

Cover of Sabriel by Garth NixSabriel, Garth Nix

It was lovely to reread Sabriel. I think I read it quite a few times when I was younger, but luckily, Garth Nix seems to have lost none of his charm for me. It helps that he has a female protagonist who isn’t perfect, who ends up with a near-broken nose, battered to bits, and still finds love — but that love isn’t the most important thing: the important thing, the thing Sabriel really has to accept, is the passing on of her father’s duties to her, and her own entry into adulthood.

I enjoy the fact that no detail is wasted, too. The story could open with Sabriel crossing into the Old Kingdom: not much terribly important happens before that, just scene setting. But then it turns out to be important because the story cycles back to that location, because the previous Abhorsen knew it would from the Clayr — and we get to see life on that side of the border, we see the people Sabriel’s been raised with and how that interacts with what she has to become. And we see people that later will prove important: those innocent schoolgirls who are Charter Mages, who ultimately give up their life to help Sabriel, because that’s the person she has to become, the person who accepts those lives as part of the cost of what she must do. They have a kind of strength that serves Sabriel well, both because she’s been raised among them and because they then help her, even though she ends up so alien to them. And I like the little details, like the dying schoolgirl’s touch to Sabriel’s ankle which is ultimately what gives her the strength to fight on, or Horyse’s vision of what’s going to happen to him.

The nice thing about the UK ebook of this is that it contains some commentary from Garth Nix on the process of writing the story. It was interesting to have him point things out, like the focus on clothing, armour, weaponry, that adds the touch of realism — I hadn’t thought about that before. It can be a liiiittle jarring to read those at the end of chapters like that, but I’m glad that extra content was included anyway.

I think of the three books, this is actually my favourite. Lirael has its attractions too, but I’m most attached to Sabriel’s character and the vitality of her romance with Touchstone — I always thought that bite/kiss to keep them both in Life when her father rang Astarael was the most wonderful thing ever, and I still found that scene pretty powerful.

Rating: 4/5

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2 thoughts on “Review – Sabriel

  1. I thought this was a perfect beginning to a stand-out series, and I liked that you brought out all those human touches that make it this novel special and poignant (whereas I focused more on the ideas — a bit more cerebral and rather colder, I admit). Hope you’ll follow this up with the sequels … and then Clariel!

    • I could pick out at least a dozen more, like the Paperwings’ personalities, and… Yeah. I’m partway through a reread of Lirael, and Abhorsen will be next after that. I’ve been trying to get hold of an ARC of Clariel, but so far, no luck.

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