Sabriel (1995) by Garth Nix
Sabriel is the daughter of the Abhorsen, a powerful necromancer who binds the dead and keeps them in the grave. There are necromancers and black magicians who bring the dead back to life--to make servants of them or to release death and evil into the world. And the Abhorsen works to counteract the evil. Sabriel has been learning the ways of necromancy and Charter Magic (a way of using words and symbols to harness magic) when she is contacted by a messenger from her father. The messenger bears a pack that contains Abohorsen's sword and magic bells--a sign that he has entered the realm of death either for good or as a prisoner of the one who has sworn to escape death's realm and unleash evil on the world. Sabriel sets off on a quest to find her father and finds herself threatened on all sides. She teams up with Moggot, a cat who has served her father, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, and their journey brings them ever closer to a final battle that will bring Sabriel face-to-face with her father's enemy.
I really wanted to like this more than I did. The opening chapters had a bit of a pull and I thought for sure the world-building would suck me right in...but then it just...fell flat. I never fully engaged with the characters and I didn't feel like the world of magic and how it works in the Old Kingdom was ever explained properly. Sabriel could have been an incredible character, but she rarely expresses herself. There's a lot of description, but Nix never uses the character herself to show us what she's like and what she feels. I appreciate the fact that Nix was trying to give the fantasy world a strong female character--and he does a fairly decent job of it. The bones are there--Sabriel just needed to be fleshed out more.
Part of my disappointment comes because I thoroughly enjoyed his book The Left-Handed Booksellers of London and I hoped for another novel that would be just as strong. I loved the way he built the alternate 1980s London. He sold me on the magical booksellers and the forces they were up against in a way he just didn't with Sabriel and the world of necromancy and Charter Magic. ★★★
First line: It was little more than three miles from the Wall into the Old Kingdom, but that was enough.
Last line: "Yes," said Sabriel with some surprise. "I am."
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