Monday, May 11, 2015

Happy 20th Anniversary Sabriel! #SabrielDay

“Death and what came after death was no great mystery to Sabriel. She just wished it was.” Sabriel, Garth Nix

20 years ago, Garth Nix published Sabriel, an incredible fantasy novel about a girl who is destined to put the dead in their place and save her world. Pretty awesome, right? 

I didn't stumble across Sabriel until I was almost eighteen.* I was going through a fantasy "dry spell,"as I call them, and I purchased Sabriel on a whim at an indie bookstore. 

I didn't know what to expect, but I had re-read The Hero and the Crown for (possibly) the twentieth time, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the eighth or so time, and I had started and stopped so many new fantasy novels in between. I was starting to think I'd read every awesome fantasy novel ever, and that no books were going to get me like my favorites again.**

So I picked up Sabriel with zero expectations It had the cover at right--> which is pretty cool, and (bonus) has  a fully and functionally clad female character on the front!

From the opening paragraph, where Sabriel brings a friend's rabbit back from death, I was hooked. I read the book in one sitting, ignoring food, vacation activities, and everything else, absorbed in the Old Kingdom and invested in the characters.

When I was done, I shoved it into my younger sister's hands and told her she had to read it too, so we could discuss it. When I got back from vacation, I did the same to my friends.

And then it wasn't until years later, when I took a job at an indie bookstore, that I met anyone else who had heard of/read Sabriel. I have been doing my tiny part to fix that ever since.

So what is it about Sabriel that makes it so good? This is something I ask myself every time I read a book and love it that much. I'm a writer as well as a reader, and I study my favorites in hopes of someday writing a book that affects someone else in the same way.

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” Sabriel, Garth Nix.

Sabriel has a young heroine with untapped powers and an intimidating destiny-typical epic fantasy material-but there is a lot more here.So this doesn't get even soppier and meander everywhere, I'll summarize in a list:

My 5 Favorite Things About Sabriel (a.k.a. 5 reasons you should read it)

  1. Sabriel herself. I related to this serious, responsible girl with a deep love for her father, commitment to duty, and drive to do her best as the world gets crazier around her. And she is an Abhorsen (basically an anti-necromancer) which is, in my opinion, one of the coolest "powers" of any character ever.
  2. The magic system. Fantasy is and always will be my first love as a reader/writer, so I have read a lot of books with magic. The ancient Charter magic/innate power, binding words, and most of all, the bells, are an intricate, beautiful web of magic that feels natural.
  3. The world. The Old Kingdom seems to be dripping with history. You feel like you are barely scraping the surface of something ancient and fascinating. The other books in the series explore the world a bit more, but still leave you wanting to know more of the lore and geography. It is a fantasy world in the best since, familiar enough to be believable, and fantastic enough to lose you in it.
  4. Mogget and Touchstone.*** As "sidekicks" go, these two make great foils for Sabriel. Touchstone, far from just being a plot device or just the love-interest, is a dry, bitterly funny character in his own right. And Mogget manages to walk the fine line between hilarious and creepy, with his sarcasm and sinister undertones. And he's in the form of a white cat. (When Sabriel first rescues Touchstone is one of the funniest parts of the book.)
  5. The Abhorsens. They are basically silencers for the dead (or as above, anti-necromancers). Using their bells and Charter magic, they basically keep the balance, so that the dead stay dead. Death, in the world of Sabriel is made up of 9 precincts before a final gate. Abhorsens (at varying degrees of personal risk) can cross the borders of life and death to enter the river of Death. Sabriel inherits this position (eventually) from her father, who is mainly referred to as "the Abhorsen"in the book. This doesn't really tell you how cool the Abhorsens are, so you'll have to read and find out

I could go on, but I want you to actually read Sabriel if you haven't already. If you like high fantasy, strong heroines, or interesting magic systems, Sabriel is a must-read.

So, have you read Sabriel or anything else by Garth Nix? What is your favorite female fronted fantasy novel?

-R

Footnotes:
*Coincidentally, Sabriel's age ;)
**It was a bit naive of me, but still, it gets harder and harder to find books that are so absorbing.
***One of several subtle nods to Shakespeare. A bard geek like me gets excited about things like that.