Sabriel’s father is the Abhorsen, a powerful necromancer. She has always known that she is next in line for his title: Sabriel can easily cross the boundaries between life and death, bringing beings in or out of both worlds. She attends a boarding school where she is a more powerful witch than any of her classmates, and her gifts surpass even those of her teachers. When a frightening messenger arrives at Sabriel’s school to warn her of her father’s imprisonment and possibly his death, Sabriel embarks on a harrowing journey through the Old Kingdom to seek out the Abhorsen. Along the way, she meets Mogget, a powerful Free Magic being imprisoned in the form of a cat, as well as Touchstone, a self-proclaimed “fool” who has been trapped within solid rock for more than two hundred years. As she continues her search with two new companions, Sabriel wonders if she will find her father dead or alive, and discovers that she, too, is an exceptional necromancer.
Sabriel has a number of exciting battle scenes and a creepy cast of the undead: the Old Kingdom is populated by gore crows, zombies, and sinister, ruthless hunters called Mordicants. The most terrifying creature of all is Kerrigor, who is practicing black magic to further blur the lines between life and death. Sabriel must distinguish friend from foe with evil at her heels, sending the dead back to their graves as they swarm villages and Kerrigor threatens to overtake the Old Kingdom.
Nix draws upon myths of the underworld, but makes the environment and characters his own. Sabriel is a strong heroine, and faces each obstacle with courage and wisdom. The story itself is full of wonderful characters, exciting twists and turns, and rich description. I found myself completely absorbed in Garth Nix’s imaginative world, often unable to put the book down. Nix’s writing never is never condescending or simplified. More startling still is that this was his first novel. Thankfully, he has written more! Sabriel is book one in the Abhorsen trilogy, and is followed by Lirael and Abhorsen.
I read this book when it was published in 1995. After taking a 16 year break from the story, I expected my memory not to align with the realities of the book itself. Instead, I found the vivid imagery and complex world that I remembered, and noticed many new details and characters. Sabriel is a superb story, highly recommended for those in their mid-teens who enjoy a well-written high fantasy.