Every once in a while, a book comes along that resonates with you on a level you weren’t expecting. Maybe it’s something silly enough to make you laugh in a bad time, sad enough to help you cry out some mess of emotions, or heroic enough give you a sense of accomplishment through the characters’ triumphs; it doesn’t have to be anything specific as long as it’s something you can call your own. That might be some of what I went through reading Sabriel, a young adult swords and sorcery novel by Garth Nix with an audiobook narrated by Tim Curry.
Sabriel herself is quiet, shy, and unassuming at the onset of her adventure, not the sort of character you might imagine running terrible creatures through with a sword. (I definitely don’t empathize with her, no way.) While she seems much more the type to dig into research in a quiet corner of a library, that luxury is not afforded to her the night tragedy shambles its way into her dormitory. Arguably woefully unprepared for what she’s about to do, it doesn’t take long for her to begin to shine in an intensely satisfying way. Naivete and reluctance give way to intelligence and determination.
Though she knows enough of the basics of her own magical abilities to have a solid grasp of what the role of Abhorsen entails, Sabriel is still learning along the way. Her own level of understanding works incredibly well to walk readers through the world’s magic system. Sure, she has a rude and condescending mentor, but both our time as reader and hers as student is respected. Magic here isn’t necessarily simple but it is clear enough to be believable insofar as it can be. That isn’t to say there aren’t complicated bits requiring a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, it’s that those instances are spaced out enough to not be jarring and overwhelming.
Just for the sake of clarification, the Abhorsens are basically good-aligned necromancers who use the power of a specific set of bells to keep the peace between the living and the dead. This isn’t the only form of magic present! The standard, military issue variety is also discussed, but in much less intricate detail. It has the same underlying methodologies with a different kind of application.
Her companions count themselves amongst the biggest cases of complicated, magical messiness. First there’s Mogget, the aforementioned rude and condescending mentor who happens to be a bit more than a talking cat. Then there’s Touchstone, a soldier ripped out of time and left on the edge of death. Inconveniently, a hefty set of rules prevents them from explaining too much to Sabriel at any given time, but it works to push the story forward in the calm moments. Both of them bring in differing levels of intrigue and danger, and a healthy and respectful bit of eventual romance in the case of the more obvious members. Together, the three travel across the world in search of Sabriel’s father and whatever happens to be disrupting the dead.
The tale Nix weaves for us is one of a world struggling to comprehend the old ways. His characters learn to use their grief as a tool to strengthen themselves and their bonds of companionship in the face of serious threats. Even the plot twists are enjoyable to work through as a reader. Although the pacing at the very end felt a bit rushed, it doesn’t detract enough to be worth knocking too much off my rating.
Overall, Sabriel is a satisfying book to read and I’m sincerely looking forward to any lingering questions being answered in the next installments.