January 19, 2012

Thursdays with Macky • Can You Hear the Bells?

Sabriel book cover
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Series: Abhorsen #1
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: September 30, 1996
Source/Format: Bought || Paperback

Since childhood, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who refuse to stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorson, is missing, and Sabriel must cross into that world to find him. With Mogget, whose feline form hides a powerful, perhaps malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, Sabriel travels deep into the Old Kingdom. There she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life'and comes face to face with her own hidden destiny...

Hello gentle readers!! (I always wanted to say that. Or was it gentle viewers… gadzooks I’m not telegenic at all. Also I wanted to use the word gadzooks)

It’s time for another post of “The good, the Whut, and the Awesome”. This time we gather ‘round my first retro (YA?) book review for the Book Sabriel. By Garth Nix.

Why would I recommend this book to just about anyone? Well for starters, it’s an adventure of amazing proportions. Also, two words: good necromancer.

That’s right folks. A good necromancer. Not the kind that messes with the dead, but the kind that puts the dead back to rest. Oh yeah. That’s in the prologue and I have “le spoilered” that bit of the story if only to entice y’all to pick up your copy like… now. I mean, it was written in 1995 but it’s still so fresh!

Finally this: central to the story is a young girl (our good necromancer in question) coming into her own. Personally, that seals the deal for me. Strong mythos plus strong female character plus amazing adventure? This is why I love books.

And so to pay tribute to this series (yes it’s a series), this review is part one of two. The next two books that come after Sabriel are technically just one giant mega novel and so they shall be reviewed (together) next week. Hopefully though (and assuming I do this review right) you folks are gonna shop for your own copies of this supercool series.

The Good

I’m the kind of reader that’s particular about a writer’s tone or voice. Right off the bat there’s a writing style to Sabriel that sucks you deep into the world. This happens almost right away as you read the first few sentences of the prologue.

The imageries… the matter of fact way things are narrated… they’re simple yet captivating. Like you’re really there with the characters going through what they’re going through.

And speaking of journeys, can I just say? The story has different paces but it’s chock full of twists, turns and plotpoints. You’ll hardly ever get bored if ever at all. It’s a very very neat story and resolves itself very well. I remember picking this book up at a Dymocks in Sydney Australia when vacationing in 2004. By the time I read the last page I knew it was a mistake to not get the next two books!

The Whut

I’m incredibly biased about the series (in case you already haven’t noticed) but I will try to be objective about any weakpoints the book may have.

Like on a personal note, I’m more a character driven story enthusiast. Which means I like my characters interesting and fun and leaving me hoping they were real so I can be friends with them. So oddly enough the main weak point for the book itself is the title character herself.
Sabriel’s not boring per se but of the whole she’s just … ordinary. She has no amazing or whimsical take on the world. No passionate dreams about life and the destiny she was to walk. If anything she’s a bit grim. And why not? She is a necromancer in training so we shouldn’t even be too surprised that she comes off as a benevolent Emily the strange.

Of course the real star of even Garth Nix’s style is the narrative itself. The story, the events, they’re just so compelling and well woven that as the tale is spun, you’re spun along with it. Sabriel’s no starry eyed teenager with big dreams thrust into an adventure that will change her world forever.

The world and its dire circumstances just swallow her whole and Garth Nix doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He isn’t self indulgent in any way either. With a story this rich there’s really nothing left to do but to just tell it and to see our characters get carried away by the tide of events they can’t control but must adapt to in order to save the day.

So yeah. Take Sabriel out of her extraordinary destiny and you’ll be left with a very ordinary girl. But that’s not a bad thing. Sabriel’s not a piece of cardboard. No.

There is a steel core to this girl however that tells you this: whether or not she knows it, she’s a hero. Not the kind that endears you to her on first glance. Not the kind that inspires great courage and inspiration right off the bat. She’s just a girl. Walking her path. And walking it hard. She’s no Buffy Summers. She’s no Katniss Everdeen. She’s not Alanna the Lioness. She’s not someone you’d imagine yourself having a conversation with. But she’s a hero through and through. And here’s why.

The Awesome

Sabriel is the kind of ordinary girl that gets thrust into extraordinary things and does extraordinarily well in dealing with these things.

The world she lives in… the destiny that unfolds before her… and her response to the overwhelmingly dire circumstances are what make Sabriel someone I’d follow all the way to the gates of death and back.

The world Garth Nix has woven around Sabriel is so incredibly amazing and fresh. I really don’t think there are too many stories like this today if ever at all. I mean she’s a necromancer that uses bells to keep the dead… dead. How cool is that!?

I love music. And I’m also a huge geek/nerd. So the very concept that a distinctive resonant sound (a unique frequency if you will) having a direct effect on the balance between life and death is just all too cool. And the best part is that it doesn’t go too much into detail about how the physics of the whole concept works. Makes it all mysterious and leaves you no choice but to accept these phenomena simply because there are more important things to focus on… like the actual story!

And what a story it is. Sabriel is one of those narratives where there are so many backstories and events that have been set in motion prior to the main character’s timeline. But at the same time, these events are revealed sparingly and at the right times so you’re not info-overloading but at the same time it’s not super predictable.

I’ve got this theory that there are really no super new plots… but what makes each story unique is the way the characters respond to all that stuff going on with and around them.

I love this story because a very dark tide of events carries Sabriel in its wake placing the fate of everything she knows and loves in her hands. She uses 7 bells, a charter spelled sword and a grimoire she inherited that helps her deal with the looming threat to her world.

As with every good story, Sabriel finds out that the tools to win the great battles are never enough to win the war. If you walk the path with her, if you let her path choose you as it has chosen her, you’ll discover with her that you’re going to need heart to carry through to victory if you’re only brave enough to go for it.

Does the walker choose the path? Or the path the walker? Does the bookworm choose the book or the book the bookworm? Sabriel’s Australian cover chose me. Called to me from a shelf. Give it a chance and walk with her. Your world will never be the same.


  1. That would be fantastic ;) Keep me posted! xox

  2. I love that you bought this in Sydney! If you're ever visiting again, let me know :)

    This is a series I haven't read but I know I really should!


  3. I can't believe this book was published in 1995! Why does it feel like it's so much more ahead of its time than the current YA fiction DX I agree completely with this review and this was my favourite part:

    " She’s no Buffy Summers. She’s no Katniss Everdeen. She’s not Alanna the Lioness."

    I think I'm in love with you. Great review!

  4. Hi Daisy! Sabriel's really... normal. Like if she wasn't a necromancer.. i don't think she'd have too many friends. she's not starry eyed or dreamy... but her life is CRAZY. and i LOVE how she slugs through it all. Do read it when you can! Exciting stuff.

  5. Hi Magan! Thanks for reading the review! Sabriel is so not gonna win homecoming queen... nor is she the "special obscure girl" with "big dreams and hopes". you should totally read this book. :D

  6. I agree with what Daisy said below. I am intrigued by a normal girl doing extraordinary things. I think it's kind of fun and easier to imagine ourselves in the character's position that way. This seems like a great book! Thanks for the awesome review, Alexa!

  7. I've been told lots of times that I need to read this book and you've comfirmed it yet again :) I love that you say she's a normal girl in extraordinary circumstances! I've been rolling my eyes at all the 'special snowflake' girls in YA these days, because it gets annoying. I'm gonna try to get my hands on it soon to see if I love the writing as much as you did! :)

  8. Mands! You might just get to see me sooner than you think. I hope I get to meet you someday if I go to Sydney! :D


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