Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Garth Nix
Fiction  Series
For ages 13 and up
HarperCollins, 2008   ISBN: 978-0061474354

Sabriel lives in Ancelstierre, the northernmost of two kingdoms that are separated by the Wall. Her life is one of ease in a peaceful place where most people go about their business without knowing or thinking much about the Old Kingdom, the land that lies to the south.

In the Old Kingdom life is very different. Long ago it was ruled by powerful Kings and Queens who, with the help of other forces of good, kept Free Magic under control and kept the Death at bay. Two centuries ago the last Queen was killed. For a hundred and eighty years a weak regency ruled, but that fell twenty years ago. Since then anarchy has spread through the land. Creatures of Death, summoned forth by necromancers, roam freely, and Free Magic is uncontrolled. However, there is one necromancer, Abhorsen, who seeks to bind the dead and send them back to where they belong rather than to raise them. He is also works to “remedy unnatural” Free Magic.

Many years ago, when Sabriel was only five, her father, Abhorsen, brought her to Wyverley college, a private school in Ancelstierre. She has been here ever since. In the not too distant future her time at the college will end, and Sabriel would like to go to university to start a new chapter in her life. Then Sabriel’s plans are upset when a Dead servant come to the college bearing a message. It has brought Sabriel a sack containing the tools of her father’s trade. Clearly something has happened to her father and she has to find him.

Sabriel has not visited the Old Kingdom, the place of her birth, since she was very young. She knows that it is a place full of dangers the like of which she has never seen, and yet she still chooses to cross the Wall and makes her way to her father’s house, where she hopes she will find more information about what has happened to him. The journey to the house is fraught with danger and she pursued by a relentless Mordicant, a powerful and malevolent creature of Death.

At Abhorsen’s house she finds comfort and safety; for a while. The Mordicant is not far off and it is preparing to attack as soon as it can. The house is occupied by magically created helpers and a bound Free Magic creature which is in the form of a white cat. The cat, Mogget, has served Abhorsens for many generations. It would appear that Abhorsen is not a name, it is a title, and for now, until her father is found or confirmed dead, Sabriel is the Abhorsen in the Old Kingdom.

It is clear now that some terrible power from Death, a Greater Dead thing called Kerrigor, is seeking her out and that her father is dead. Sabriel decides that the first thing she must do is to find her father’s body. Mogget tells Sabriel that three weeks ago her father was summoned to Bilisaere, the capital; and so Sabriel, with Mogget, leaves her father’s house and they journey, in a large paper plane, to the city.

On their way there they are attacked by more of  Kerrigor’s servants and the paper plane crashes in a sinkhole not far from the coast. Sabriel and Mogget are trapped in the sinkhole, but they can travel, via tunnels, to other sinkholes in the area. In one of these they find the funereal ships of the kings and queens of the Old Kingdom. The figurehead of one of the ships seems too lifelike and Sabriel senses that there is a living person tied to the wooden sculpture. She goes into Death and retrieves his spirit. Back in the world of the living the spirit enters the figurehead and soon after a young man, whom Mogget calls Touchstone, appears before them. Touchstone tells Sabriel that he was a guard who served the last queen.

Though Touchstone has been asleep for two hundred years, he is still a powerful Charter Mage, almost as powerful as Sabriel is, and he also knows the country better than she does. Touchstone decides to serve Sabriel as a sword-hand and guide, and the two mages and Mogget set off for a coastal town where they hope to get a boat that will take them to the capital. It is only when they get to Nestowe, a town on the coast, that they fully appreciate that Kerrigor is indeed a most powerful necromantic adept who is determined to destroy any who stand in his way.

In this powerful book, the first in a trilogy, Garth Nix tells a story that is incredibly compelling. It is, at times, painful to ‘witness’ the suffering the characters experience, and yet at the same time we know that Sabriel and her allies are fighting for a better future, and we can hope that she will, in the end, prevail and defeat her enemy.