Garth Nix’s Sabriel is one of the only books to ever cause me to have a day-mare. I was sitting in my graphics class in high school clearly, a little zonked out when I swear a bunch of Dead Hands (think zombies, but more fall-apart-y) burst through the door and attacked the teacher. I realize this did not happen (thank goodness), but my brain sure thought it could have. That is the magic of this book: Nix has written a world is so tangible that you actually believe it could be real.
There are some books that I can pick up at any time. The kind that if you woke me at 3am and forced me to read, I wouldn’t even be mad. One of those books is Tamora Pierce’s Alanna and the other is Sabriel. It is no coincidence that both books have vivid fantasy settings. I read fantasy because I love a well-crafted world. Middle Earth is beautiful, Hogwarts is where I wish I went to school, and Tortall is a wonderful mix of chivalry and magic. But there is only one world that I think is complete perfection, and that is Nix’s Old Kingdom.
Starting Sabriel, you hit the ground running, thrown into a place where the dead do not remain dead, magic is channeled through symbols, and a necromancer called the Abhorsen wields seven bells to return the Dead to Death. What I love most is that this world is separated from our own by a mere stone wall. Imagine having a magic world that close to you. It would be just like having a portal in your wardrobe.
Sabriel, daughter of the Abhorsen, is a student on the less magical side of the wall, where she has lived for most of her life. She receives a message from her father in the form of one of the Dead, who has brought her the seven bells and her father’s sword. Knowing this could only mean that her father is in immense trouble, Sabriel sets off across the wall with one thing on her mind: a rescue mission. But the Old Kingdom is worse than it had seemed, and Sabriel is stalked by one of the Greater Dead, a being wreathed in flame who is bent on destroying her.
This is what I mean about this book hitting the ground running. The first third is so intense that you can’t help but read it in one sitting. Actually, I think I have read Sabriel in a single go every time I pick it up. This is compulsive and obsessive writing that makes you feel like you’re right there next to Sabriel – not a very good feeling when the Dead get close though.
Sabriel herself is one kickass heroine, both a Charter mage and the Abhorsen. She is also 17 and a novice. She gets thrown from sticky situation to stickier one and you can’t help but think about how things would go if that had happened to you (I would be dead.) Although I respect Sabriel, my favorite character is Mogget, a white cat with an ominous secret. He is a sassy, sarcastic and snarky know-it-all, but he is also an adorable kitty you can’t help but love.
But it is the well-paced action and creative ambitions that bring me back to this series over and over again. I first read Sabriel and its sequels when I was in high school, and I have read them all again at least three times since. Each time I read them, I discover another layer to this world that I hadn’t spotted before. It is these revelations that make me worship Nix’s imagination and makes me clap my hands like a complete idiot every time I hear that he has written something new.
Goldenhand, the fifth book in the Old Kingdom series, came out this year and I was buying it from the bookshop down the road the first day it came out. It was just as perfect as I wanted it to be. Five books deep, this world is so well thought out that I still can’t help but fall in love with it. This is one of the magical worlds I would most like to live in. Yes, the Dead included.