'Sabriel' - Book Review

by Garth Nix
1995, 311 pages

This is a young adult fantasy novel, about a young woman named, wait for it, "Sabriel." It's a reasonably well written coming-of-age story, but is structured as pure out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire action/quest, with no rest stops for the main character for three hundred pages. I'm okay that our character is unprepared for the events, that she's over her head. I'm okay with her mettle being tested. What I'm not okay with is a continuous whirlwind of action that lasts weeks for the character where she never gets to rest or learn in peaceful circumstances, but is instead continuously exhausted and overburdened. So many of these get written that I have to assume a lot of people think this kind of thing is a desirable narrative, but I don't think I'm going to be returning to Nix's fictional universe(s).

Sabriel is the daughter of (the) Abhorsen. She's sent to boarding school in Ancelstierre although she is herself a citizen of the Old Kingdom. Ancelstierre is a lot like our world (except for having 1920s technology), but at the border with the Old Kingdom, magic bleeds over - and with it, occasionally, the Dead. The Old Kingdom has a couple kinds of magic, and the dead ... don't always remain dead. More correctly, they escape the realm of death and walk the Old Kingdom. The Abhorsen's job is to take care of the dead that aren't staying dead.

By page 17 she's found out her father is in serious trouble, and by a couple pages after that she's set out to rescue him. She acquires her own motley crew of helpers along the way. It's a fantasy quest story, with zombies and spirits and a shoddily created underworld. The writing is mostly okay, but didn't bring anything new to the table: it's a fantasy adventure story, period. I didn't enjoy it much.