The Abhorsen

15 Aug

In Sabriel, Garth Nix presents a world very like ours, but problematized by the battle between Free Magic and the Charter system created to utilize/control it. Enter the Abhorsen, who uses the Charter marks emblazoned in a set of bells to keep the dead down – a serious problem in the Old Kingdom. After the death of her father, Sabriel becomes the new Abhorsen, and struggles with a surly cat, a man who was a prince and then a wooden figurehead and is now a man again, and a seriously evil mummy.

Sabriel herself is a rational, intelligent girl who finds herself not only abruptly orphaned, but thrust into a position of power she was unprepared for, in the middle of a maelstrom. But she not only rises to the challenge, but faces each of them down with composure and courage. Much of Sabriel’s fighting is done with her mind – not only matching wits with an ancient evil overlord-type, but the Abhorsen can leave their body and journey into death, and so much of Sabriel’s quest is fulfilled by her spirit-self. She isn’t particularly martially gifted, nor extraordinarily beautiful, but her mind is like a steel trap. Here’s a heroine for the geeky girl – Sabriel outwits, outlasts, and outstubborns just about anything she comes across.

This is a classic book for the reader’s reader, and I would recommend it to middle grade and up. The series continues with Lirael and Abhorsen, both good books with a compelling storyline that builds on Sabriel’s. While Lirael is a character who favors book-learning as well, she lacks Sabriel’s chutzpah, at least initially, and can’t quite measure up to her predecessor. Nix has complied a book of short stories from this world, Tales from Beyond the Wall, with “The Creature in the Case” being the best of those.

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2 Responses to “The Abhorsen”

  1. Kayla August 26, 2010 at 11:30 am #

    I really enjoyed this trilogy, first and foremost because the world Nix describes is so unique and the magic so wonderfully different from standard fantasy. I’m not saying that more common rules for magic (such as those used in The Inheritance Quartet) aren’t great. The system Paolini draws on has its strengths and drawbacks like any good system. What I feel really draws this reader into this world is figuring out the magic of the Abhorsen, as Sabriel must do in the first book. I’m all for the old favorites, but I also love it when someone like Nix steps so skillfully out of the box and gives me something different.

  2. pickychick books August 31, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Along the lines of Tolkien, Nix created a complete world with unique systems and rules that is self-sustaining and easily understandable – particularly since, as you pointed out, you get to learn it along with Sabriel. I think that’s what makes his stories so engrossing – he offers a re-imagining of old worn-out tropes. I mean we’ve heard of evil mummy sorcerers before, but who has ever challenged them with a bunch of bells?

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