A deeply immersive world

gargoyle

Garth Nix Abhorsen
HarperCollins Children’s Books 2005 (2003)

This, the third of the Old Kingdom series, follows immediately on from Lirael, set about a score of years after the events in Sabriel. Young Lirael, who was still hoping to gain the gift of clear foresight that her kin the Clayr claimed as their birthright, has accepted instead that she is Abhorsen-in-waiting. Prince Sameth, relieved that he is no longer Abhorsen-in-waiting, finds that he is destined to be a Wallmaker — appropriately as he has the gift of making. These are complicated roles to understand without knowledge of the previous two volumes in the series but, bearing in mind the title of this book, an explanation is probably called for — for at least one of the roles. Continue reading “A deeply immersive world”

Destiny’s children

mosaic
Romano-British mosaic fragment, British Museum (2013)

Garth Nix Lirael  Collins 2004 (2001)

Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?

Much of fantasy is founded on the principle of Fate taking a hand in deciding future outcomes. It’s hardly surprising – it shares this principle with fairytale, with mythology, with religion, whether Fate is called a fairy godmother, a god or any other kind of demiurge. With backgrounds such as these the notion of prophecy looms large, even saws and sayings become significant determinants which one defies at peril or at least with little success.

In Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series that sense of predestination is encapsulated in the question “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” Now while many abhor such casual predetermining of individual or collective futures by Fate (or whatever one chooses to call it) there is no denying that as a plot device in fantasy it can be not only a successful but also satisfying way of ensuring that karma catches up with individuals and justice in all its forms is seen to be done. From fairytales through myth and on to much classic literature we all like a pleasing narrative where good, despite the odds stacked against it, overcomes evil in the end and all deserving souls live, for the foreseeable future, happily ever after.

So it is with Lirael, the second in the series. Continue reading “Destiny’s children”

Many layers of allusion

Mogget's map of the Old Kingdom credit: http://oldkingdomwiki.wikia.com/wiki/Mogget%27s_Map?file=Map.jpg
Mogget’s map of the Old Kingdom
credit: http://oldkingdomwiki.wikia.com/wiki/Mogget%27s_Map?file=Map.jpg

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”