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SabrielReview - Sabriel
by Garth Nix
Listening Library, 2002
Review by Su Terry
Apr 7th 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 15)

            Sabriel by Garth Nix is an entertaining fantasy novel for young people with a strong female protagonist. Young Sabriel is forced to battle the lord of the undead and his minion in order to find her father, save the kingdom, and win the heart of the young man of her dreams.

Sabriel is set in a fantasy world that has strong elements of contemporary English life. Sabriel is a young woman studying at a magic boarding school when she learns that her father, a famous necromancer, with the title “Mage Abhorsen”, has disappears. Because she has been given his sword and magical bells, Sabriel realizes that her father must have crossed into the watery world of the dead. In order to save him, Sabriel must find his body within one cycle of the moon and cast a saving spell on his body. So it is Sabriel sets out on a journey to the Old Kingdom. The Old Kingdom is a magical world filled with free magic wielders – some good and some very evil – called “charter mages”, undead zombies known as “hands”, and spirit trackers known as “mordicants”. At her father’s house in the Old Kingdom, Sabriel is warned that her father’s enemy, an evil necromancer named “Kerrigor” is responsible for her father’s disappearance. Kerrigor is bent on controlling the world and has been systematically destroying the charter markers that keep good and evil in balance. Also at her father’s house she is introduced to her traveling companion a magical talking cat named “Mogget”. Mogget is a free magic creature imprisoned in the body of a cat and thus is the unwilling servant to the Abhorsens. He will be quite instrumental for her journey, but she is warned to never remove his collar. As her journey progresses, she also encounters the handsome Touchstone, a mysterious young “Charter Mage” who is very silent about his past. As the trio move deeper into the Old Kingdom they meet a variety of powerful creatures including a host of the undead, the evil servants of Kerrigor and the Clayr, a mysterious clan of beautiful women with psychic sight but with no sense of time. The novel concludes with a major battle between good and evil, the living and the dead.

Sabriel is a complex fantasy novel. Like many fantasy works, it is filled with magical elements (in this case magical swords, bells, and charter marks). The reader is asked to suspend believe and wander through a world filled with the undead as well as a world with fishing villages, army sergeants, and slow moving jeeps.

Sabriel is also significant in the growing field of female fantasy heroines. She is strong, yet she has fragile moments. She is a tomboy yet is well aware of what a nice gown can do for catching a young man’s fancy. She worries about being wise enough to best the chief undead but also whether she should kiss the young man of her dreams. Like Harry Potter the work blends the elements of a coming-of-age story with humorous moments.

Sabriel is a tightly knit story. It is well crafted with well developed characters. I must admit as well developed as Sabriel and Touchstone are I find the secondary characters much more endearing. I loved the characters of Moggett, Colonel Hoaries and the Clayr twins. Moggett is all cat. He is irascibly smug and switches between being a friend or a foe as the mood suits him. The Clayr are not the usual fodder for fantasy novels. They are the epitome of drop dead gorgeous, some what flaky “valley girls”. It is easy to picture them flipping their long shiny blond hair with a casually expressed “whatever.” Lastly, the colonel is the stereotypical British officer ala Monty Python. He is thoroughly serious even against outrageous odds and yet warmly paternal.

Garth Nix was born and raised in Canberra, Australia. He earned a writing degree from the University of Canberra. He served in the Australian Army Reserve in the Assault Pioneer platoon for four years. He has worked as a book publicist, a publisher’s sales representative, and editor. He is now a full-time author. Ragwitch (1988) was his first book. Ragwitch (1995) was voted among the Notable Books of 1991 by the Children's Book Council of Australia and Sabriel was the winner for the 'Best Fantasy Novel' of the 1995 Aurealis Awards. He is also the author of Shade's Children (1997); Keys to the Kingdom: Mister Monday (2003); and the five books of the Seventh Tower series: The Fall (2000), Castle (2000), Aenir (2000), Above The Veil (2001), Dark Revelation (2001), and The Violet Keystone (2001). Sabriel (1994) is the first book of a trilogy 'The Old Kingdom' trilogy. The second book is Lirael (2002) and the third is Abhorsen (2003). (The Listening Library audiobook of Lirael is currently available and Abhorsen will be available in April 2003.) Nix currently lives in Sydney.

            Tim Curry is a multitalented actor with staying power. Although he is best remembered for his role as Dr. Frank N. Furter in the cult movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Curry won an Emmy Award (Peter Pan and the Pirates), was nominated for two Tony Awards (Amedeus and My Favorite Year), an Emmy and a CableACE (Death of Some Salesmen). He was also nominated for two Grammy Awards for his audiobooks (A Series of Unfortunate Events—Book 1: The Bad Beginning and Lirael). Tim Curry does an outstanding job narrating the tale. He captures the personalities of the characters and wonderfully portrayed them through a myriad of unique voices. I must also congratulate him on creating a believably female Sabriel. (Cross gender voices are not an easy feat for many narrators!)

Sabriel by Garth Nix is an engrossing coming-of-age tale setting against the backdrop of magic and the undead. This excellent novel is also brilliantly narrated. Nix and Curry are a winning combination!  This book is rated “Ages 12-up”. Note: Some young children may have difficulties with some of the graphic images of the undead. I highly recommend it. Chilling!

 

© 2003 Su Terry

Link: Publisher’s web page for audiobook

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.


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