Sabriel by Garth Nix


I absolutely love this novel. I came across it after reading the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas because she has cited it in a few interviews as one of her sources of inspiration for the character of Caleana who is one of my favourite protagonists in a long while. It’s also popped up on lots of blogs I follow.

Sabriel is just a young teenager when the book begins but has to grow up quickly when the Abhorsen goes missing. She leaves her boarding school and takes on the traditional garb of the Abhorsen, including the bells which are used to control or influence spirits, and begins a quest to find her father and whatever has taken him. She refuses to believe he is dead and senses that there is a bigger danger at work.

One of the major themes in the book is death. The spiritual world is highly prevalent and the barrier between ‘life’ and ‘death’ is weak. Sabriel is the daughter of the Abhorsen whose job is to send unwanted spirits back into the realm of death and stop them causing problems in the world of the living. Others who interact with the dead are necromancers who use their ability to control the dead to serve their own selfish purposes. The main force which holds the two worlds separate is known as ‘The Charter’ and an Abhorsen works for this force.


The characterisation of Sabriel isn’t the best ever but is still good. She’s a strong and independent young girl with special abilities which set her apart from others. I know this formula is overused these days, but you have to appreciate it as this was published in 1995, well before Katniss and Tris existed. Perhaps the fact the novel is written in third person means it is harder to connect with Sabriel as a character. My main criticism of her is that her ‘flaws’ seem to be exhaustion and lack of knowledge and training, which aren’t really character traits but circumstantial obstacles.

My favourite character is Mogget. He’s a cat, but actually is some unknown and hugely powerful spirit trapped in cat form. He wears a collar which binds him to serve the Abhorsens, but if it is removed he will be free. I really like this concept and entertaining the thought that maybe all cats have some powerful spirit and that’s what makes them so snooty and why the Egyptians worshiped them! He’s always trying to trick Sabriel into removing the collar but also makes sure she has the means to retrap him if he ever happened to get free, so he’s a complicated little creature.

The main focus of this story is the quest to save the Abhorsen and find out what is causing so much trouble from the world of the dead. But there is also a romance, which doesn’t really have much romance… it’s definitely not a chick flicky romance but it’s still nice.. There’s plenty of action and the world Nix has created is super interesting and I especially like his depiction of death as a river with many gates, this has to be from somewhere because it’s also used in A Song for Ella Grey but I haven’t researched it enough to be sure. The way that Sabriel steps into the realm of death reminds me so much of a scene in Crown of Midnight (the sequel to Throne of Glass that I can see Maas definitely drew on the book for inspiration in more ways than just characterization.

There are three novels in the series, all of which are good, and recently Nix has published a prequel style novel called Clariel which I keep seeing everywhere and also really enjoyed (review to come).

My rating for this wonderful novel is 4/5. I definitely recommend it, especially if you like YA fantasy novels or have read (or want to read) the Throne of Glass novels.

Buy it here


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