Garth Nix Sabriel
HarperCollins Children’s Books 2003 (1995)
A young woman finds herself thrust into a task that she feels unprepared for, and of course you have to hope that, despite the odds, she succeeds. This being fantasy, first cousin to fairytales and heir to human dreams, you can be almost certain that she will. But, to quote the song, what gets results is not what you do but the way that you do it; and because Garth Nix is a talented writer, with a long track record in publishing and editing, the end result is a very distinguished and impressive first volume in The Old Kingdom series that rarely feels as if it’s peddling clichés.
In some countries the trilogy is named the Abhorsen series, from the title of the gatekeeper between the realms of the living and the dead, a necromancer who communicates with the deceased through the use of a set of bells. Sabriel, the daughter of the current Abhorsen, finds herself in quest of her missing father with only the instruments of his calling and a talking cat called Mogget. This involves a dangerous foray from Ancelstierre into the Old Kingdom where magic is strong; conversely anything mechanical is unable to function. Her search requires her to journey through inimical landscapes, survive a siege, fly in an engineless aircraft called a paperwing and survive numerous brushes with death, vividly described as being an underground river flowing through nine precincts. This is not a laugh-a-minute tale. Continue reading “Many layers of allusion”