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Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen by Garth Nix – Series Review

Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen by Garth Nix – Series Review
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Book Name: Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen
Author: Garth Nix
Publisher(s): HarperCollins
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: 1995, 2001, 2003

Five Great Charters knit the land.
Together linked, hand in hand.
One in the people who wear the Crown.
Two in the folk who keep the Dead down.
Three and Five became stone and mortar.
Four sees all in frozen water.

Sabriel (cover 2)Written by Australian author Garth Nix, the Abhorsen trilogy is set in the fictional fantasy world of the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre. There is also a prequel to the triolgy, Clariel, which was released in 2014 and a sequel, Goldenhand, which was released in 2016.

In book one we meet the titular Sabriel, a young woman and daughter to the Abhorsen. The Abhorsen protects the world against the Dead by using bells to control them. It is a hereditary position, although not necessarily from a direct bloodline. It may go to a niece or nephew, instead of a daughter or son. At the beginning of the book, Sabriel goes in search for her father after he fails to show up for scheduled visit.

While we follow Sabriel in the first book, we primarily follow Lirael in the following two. Both are fantastic female protagonists, and each have distinct voices. In addition to them, there is a wonderful cast of characters that includes a talking dog and cat. All of the characters are incredibly well written with complex personalities and interesting back stories. One thing I loved about the characters is the equality between the men and women. Neither is seen as superior, which is quite refreshing. They complement and help each other through all that happens throughout the books. While I would suggest that this is a more world/plot driven story than a character driven story, Nix hasn’t sacrificed anything in terms of creating complex characters.

Lirael (cover)

One of my favourite things about this trilogy is the world and the magic system. Nix has done a fantastic job at creating a vivid, complex world. It is split into two parts: the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre. These two realms meet physically at the Wall, but they are different planes of existence with the former north of the wall and the latter to the south. The Old Kingdom is a large realm ruled by the Royal Line, while Ancelstierre is inspired by pre-WWI Britain. Magic plays a big part in the Old Kingdom, but many in Ancelstierre do not believe magic exists. Both kingdoms are equally well written. From the very beginning I was immersed in the world and I would love to see more books set within the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre.

In the series there are two distinct magic systems: Charter magic and Free magic. The Charter consists of an endless flow of symbols that make up the universe and these symbols are the source of a Charter mages power. Free magic is seen as raw magical power that is corrosive to living things. In very simple terms Charter magic is seen as good and Free magic as bad.

The last source of power in the world are seven necromantic bells used by the Abhorsen to control Death. The bells are a blend of Charter and Free magic. Each bell has a name and a specific power. The smallest, Ranna or the Sleeper, puts those who hear it to sleep. The largest, Astarael or the Weeper, sends all who hear it, including the ringer, far into Death.

Magic is present in the Old Kingdom, but you can only use magic in Ancelstierre if you are close to the Wall or if there is a strong wind coming from the Old Kingdom. The magic system as a whole is unlike anything I’ve come across before and I love it.

Abhorsen (cover)Finally, the plot is compelling throughout the trilogy and once I’d started reading, I didn’t want to put any of the books down. The first few chapters really hook you in. The pacing is well suited to the story, so even in the slower moments you will still be invested in the plot and characters. Each book is as good as the last and the conclusion was so well done. The writing is also fantastic throughout and I knew from the very first pages that I was going to enjoy the series.

One last note is that, although part of a trilogy, the first book can be read as a standalone, if you so wish, but you’ll be missing out on the other two books.

Overall this is one of my all-time favourite trilogies, and one that I can always reread. It contains a fantastic cast of characters, a wonderfully vivid world and a compelling story. Nix does a great job at weaving all these elements together. I cannot recommend reading these books highly enough. The prequel and sequel are also worth checking out, but I would recommend reading the original trilogy first. If you are looking for a new fantasy trilogy to start, then I would highly recommend checking these books out.

Title image by LauraTolton.

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