Nix, Garth: Sabriel

Today’s book was Sabriel by Garth Nix. I’d vaguely heard good things about this on Usenet, so bought it on a whim. It’s nominally a YA (Young Adult) novel, so you may have to look in that section for it. (At least go look: the cover is pretty cool.)

This was good. Sabriel is training to follow in her father’s footsteps as a necromancer—but unlike every other necromancer except her father, she binds the dead, according to the Charter that holds together the Old Kingdom, and doesn’t raise them with Free Magic. When the book opens, she’s in Ancelstierre, a vaguely British—or Australian, which is where Nix is from—country with an early-mid 20th century tech level. Her boarding school is near enough to the Wall that magic leaks over from the Old Kingdom (she’s about to graduate, and took a First in Charter Magic to match her Firsts in English and Music). She gets a disturbing message from her father, who has apparently been trapped over the border of Death; he hands over the tools of a necromancer, his sword and his bells, to her. (The seven bells each have a name and a function; if you’re like me and can’t remember names, bookmark the page that they get introduced.)

Sabriel sets out to find out what’s happened to her father, which turns out to be part and parcel with the corruption of the Charter in the Old Kingdom. The quest/coming-of-age format remains durable, and the world she’s questing through as she comes of age is vivid and intriguing. Those who like their magic to be just a little inexplicable will probably like this one; it has some very faint, indefinable flavor of John Bellairs about it. The story’s self-contained, but there’s definitely more to be told, and Lirael is out now (set a generation later). I probably won’t buy it in hardcover, but I’ll certainly look for it in paper.

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