When I saw this book cover, it triggered instant nostalgia. I vaguely recollected loving it when I was a teenager, so I bought it to see if I would still love it now that I'm a stuffy old grownup. I was expecting some moment of recognition as I read . . . but it never came. I remembered NOTHING about this book except, apparently, that I liked it? At some point? Curse my unreliable memory!
Anyway, Sabriel is the daughter of a powerful necromancer, Abhorsen. But instead of bringing the dead back to life like some OTHER necromancers are wont to do (naughty necromancers), Abhorsen travels around the kingdom putting the dead to rest. So whenever something slips through the gate between life and death and sets about terrorizing the living (which happens quite frequently, it seems), Abhorsen sweeps in dramatically and jangles one of his special bells to send the dead thing back to death for good.
|He also sometimes pokes the dead thing with his magical sword.|
The Old Kingdom is where magic still runs rampant, and Ancelstierre, on the other side of a fortified wall, is where magic DOESN'T happen . . . and Abhorsen has sent Sabriel to school in nonmagical Ancelstierre, for some reason. BUT he's still trained her in the art of necromancy, and she's still taken magic classes at school. And this is good, because something goes awry with her father and she has to travel over the wall into the Old Kingdom to save him. And then she has an adventure . . . with MAGIC.
Sabriel is a strong female character, but she does have a lot of I-can't-believe-how-little-I-know-about-anything moments, which I suppose is a pretty common setup: girl who is being groomed for greatness is called upon to use her skills before she's fully ready and has to learn as she goes. Fair enough. No complaints there, really.
The romance is a little . . . odd. It's not instalove, thank GOODNESS, but it feels a little contrived, nonetheless. He's like, "Oh, hey . . . I've just realized that this person I've been traveling and fighting with for several weeks is a pretty girl, and I'm in love with her. I just decided that just now." And she's like, "This boy is very cute, but I don't have time for boys right now. I have to save the world. Just kidding. I love him." Actually . . . that's exactly what it is. I basically just quoted the book there.
I think this is the first YA novel I've read that uses words I've never seen before. I don't know how I feel about this. Well, no . . . I definitely don't like it. What the hell is a revetment? And bitumen? And a revenant? *consults dictionary* For the LOVE, Garth Nix! Why couldn't you just say wall, asphalt, and ghost? Someone should confiscate your thesaurus.
The little details are what make the book, I think. The seven bells with very specific purposes in dealing with the dead. The way the necromancers' physical bodies ice over when their spirits travel into death on an errand. The way objects are imbued with magic in the form of Charter marks coursing through and over them like living things made of light. But my faaaavorite favorite part about this book is a character called Mogget. He's a crazy-powerful Free Magic being that has served Sabriel's family for thousands of years. Normally, he's evil and all made of crackly light, but he's been enslaved in the form of a fluffy white kitty. He's clever and sarcastic and old and does cat things even though he's quite above all that, thank you.
|"Where's the section on defeating members of the Greater Dead?"|
Now watch as I wantonly compare this book to other things. All I've really got as far as a comparison is the fact that Mogget's snarky attitude and confining physical form remind me a LOT of Calcifer from Howl's Moving Castle.
|Calcifer: fearsome fire demon|
|Calcifer: Sassy hearth fire|