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Old Kingdom / Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix Many of you may not have heard of this series… I picked it up by complete chance about 5/6 years ago when visiting a relative. I forgot the book I was currently reading (Magicians Guild) and was kinda bored over the weekend there. Still having 5 days left on my trip, I walked past a charity shop and sat in the window was a book called ‘Sabriel’. Now, to me it looked ‘fantasy-ish’ so I picked it up…

The book was so amazing that by the end of the holiday I was almost finished on the third in the series (after two emergency trips to Waterstones Book Store!). It in fact went on to go to my sister who to this day swears the second in the series being the best book she ever read (Lirael) and myself having very fond memories of it and wishing, begging, pleading Garth Nix to do a follow up…

The series I am talking about here is ‘The Old Kingdom Trilogy’ by Garth Nix. Also known as the ‘Abhorson Series’ in North America; it consists of three books; Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen. The challenge here is doing a review on three books without giving any spoilers… I’m gonna give it a shot!

The first book, Sabriel follows a young girl who is in a seemingly normal(ish) school. We quickly find out that this school is ‘behind the wall’ and therefore safe from what has happened in ‘the old kingdom’. We find that the old kingdom is full of danger. Sabriel gets a message from her farther who is the Abhorsen – the man charged with following spirits into death and ensuring they get through it. This is a world where evil spirits don’t like to die. And when they do die they fight death.

In the Old Kingdom, when a creature dies it enters into the River of Death. Once there, these once living spirits who have both the inclination and the ability to resist the pull of the River of Death may rise again. Though very few are powerful enough to fight the currents, if summoned by a necromancer it is a relatively quick process for them unless stopped by the Abhorsen.

The fact that the Abhorsen is now missing means that anyone wanting to summon the dead can do so fairly easily. Sabriel knows why her father has given her the message – she needs to return to the Old Kingdom and rescue him even if he is already dead himself. Quickly she finds that to find the Abhorsen she is going to have to fight the dead in both the Old Kingdom and the River of Death…. Something she does not have nearly enough power for.

Her journey is one of magic, betrayal, love, growth and even possessed, talking cats.

Book Two links in with book one but we are no longer following Sabriel (for reasons you will see after book 1). We are now following ‘Lirael’, living at a school for those who have ‘the sight’ – she is an outcast on the verge of suicide. ‘The Sight’ is the ability to see into the future or at least see the possibilities that the future brings and the fact she has not yet developed it is of great shame. Where as most girls develop the ability around 11, Lirael is 14 now and without it. In addition to her lack of the gift, she also differs physically from all the other girls at her school. Where as they are beautiful with blonde hair and striking blue or green eyes, she has a pale complexion, black hair and brown eyes.

Upon her 14th birthday the Clayr (The name of the race that Lirael is a part of) appoint her to work at the library. Although still distressed over the lack of sight it gives her focus and a ‘role’ in the school. Through her work in the Library Lirael is able to access books that are usually ‘out of bounds’ and casts a spell, which inadvertently goes wrong and results in the summoning of the Disreputable Dog.

Through the usage of the library and help of the Disreputable Dog (who can talk!), Lirael begins to unlock the keys to embarking upon an adventure of utmost importance.

At the same time we meet a prince based in Ancelestierre (the good side of the wall) who is left injured by a fight with an evil necromancer (one that helps the dead rise through the River of the Dead). When Sameth is revealed to be in-line to become an Abhorsen one day, he rejects the idea due to his fear of necromancy.

Their stories are interwoven, whilst Sameth must return to the Old Kingdom and learn to help counter the enormous threats that are coming, Lirael must too do her part with help from the Disreputable Dog. Both extremely young and barely able to cast their first, most basic spells – just how is it that they will steer the world away from the coming darkness and mystery that is approaching?

Book Three in the trilogy is Abhorsen. It is the linking of the previous two books and of course the conclusion. The evil powers in The Old Kingdom have been growing in strength and number and it is the job of the remaining characters to work together and overcome the threat they possess to the thriving Kingdom of Ancelestierre. I can’t say much else without spoiling the previous two books, but it is certainly a good bringing together of all the characters and story lines up until this point.


Onto my thoughts on the series… this is a very ‘different’ series. It is not a ‘huge’ or ‘epic’ fantasy. It has been marketed for those aged around 15-17, although is very, very universal. I’d say the reading age would be higher than that of Harry Potter for example so don’t think anyone should label this book as a ‘kids book’ and write it off. The ‘Old Kingdom’ is one of the most realistic worlds I have ever read about in a geographic sense. The contrast of a modern, technologically advanced Ancelestierre living in relative harmony with ‘The Old Kingdom’ being a complete wasteland full of Demonic Creatures, Magic, Death and Evil is told in a way that is so far unmatched.

What really makes the books is the system of death. The fact that when an evil creature dies it is not dead… it is living in the ‘River of Death’ is terrifying and a unique way to do things. There are 9 gates of death, each with stronger and stronger currents. Therefore to ensure that something is ‘really’ dead you need to push them through all 9. Even the Aborsen can only go a certain distance into death, relying on the currents to push them the through the remaining gates. By going too far the Aborsen risks an ambush from any number of dead fighting against the currents, getting trapped against the current or even dragged through the 9th gate them-self.

When we are not in death, we are primarily in either the Old Kingdom or the Clayr’s school. Both are fascinating places that are brought to life through Garth Nix’s writing style. There are various styles of magic; Charter Magic, Necromancy and Free Magic that are all used to keep battles and obstacles enjoyable. Perhaps the interaction between Sabriel and ‘Mogget’ the talking cat as well as Lirael and the ‘Disreputable Dog’ is one of the very best parts in the book. There is always the question there as to whether Mogget is trying to help or to kill Sabriel as he openly tells us when we first meet him/her that her father trapped his evil spirit into the cats form. The book moves at such a breathtaking pace that by the time you have finished you cannot believe how much has really happened. Everything is interesting in this series – there is not a dull moment and there is very little world building or background that doesn’t involve some kind of action.

Perhaps my one problem with this series is that it was a trilogy. That might sound as if I am saying ‘I want more books’, but actually it is more; ‘I want more answers’. There are a few loose-ends to say the least and even a few characters who we are lead to believe will be re-introduced are not. I personally think (could be wrong) that Garth Nix intended to write more of the Old Kingdom books soon after the original trilogies release but simply didn’t have time… He has gone on to write some very popular series since that maybe he wasn’t expecting to do and I can only guess this got put on the back burner. Perhaps supporting this assumption is the fact that Garth Nix has written a number of ‘short stories’, showing he does want to re-enter this world but just doesn’t have time or inclination to commit to a full novel.

According to wiki-pedia (not the most reliable of sources);
“Garth Nix has announced two additions to the series: a prequel and a “sequel of sorts to Abhorsen”. While the sequel is unnamed, the prequel has the working title Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen. The books are stated to appear in 2011…” HOWEVER I looked a few years ago and it said the same thing but with ’2009? on the end so I am waiting to see.

Fantastic series that if you have not done already – you need to check out! Just be aware that it is a book that will draw you so deep into its world and characters that leaving them will be hard and leaving them without a complete resolution is even tougher. I guess the question to ask; “Is leaving a reader begging for more always a good thing?”

December 09, 2010, 10:54:00 AM
Re: Anyone written anything they want critiqued? I don't mind doing some critique work :)
December 15, 2010, 03:06:58 PM
Re: What are you currently reading? Currently I am reading;

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.
Brilliant, Brilliant Writer, his writing style is phenomenal and I can see how he gets away with taking over WoT and producing a 1000 page+ book because simply he is just 'readable'. Mistborn itself is very good so far, maybe like a few others not relating to the 'main' character quite as much as I would like - I kinda want to strangle her and say 'TRUST HIM DAMMIT!!!!' but it is shaping up (about 40% through now).

Tootless by J.P. Moore
Unique, Different and Enjoyable. The writing style is hard to adapt to because there is not much dialogue and you are mainly reading 'thoughts' as opposed to actions and events for the first few chapters. Also, because it is told to you by a zombie, it is fairly vivid. Once you adapt to the stye though and understand the story it is very enjoyable. It's quite a short read (about 250 pages?) and the story pushes itself along nicely. About 20% through?

January 04, 2011, 09:44:38 AM
Re: Fantasy Book Covers - Do they lure you in?
You'd think, but no.  I blame Twilight.

Agreed. There are some people who do it well though - Kelley Armstrong books are quite good - although they don't have those tacky covers and the stories are actually centred around paranormal stuff rather than the romance(sex) itself.

As a representative of the US, I apologize for Twilight.  Sorry about that.  We'll try not to let it happen again. ;)

Sorry... It would be a flat out lie if I said you are forgiven... ;P

January 21, 2011, 06:39:48 PM
Fight Scenes... OK... so three questions:

1. What makes a good Fight Scene?
2. What makes a bad Fight Scene?
3. Who writes the best Fight Scenes?

January 27, 2011, 04:41:47 AM
Re: Worst Fantasy Book Cover... Ever? This is pretty awful:

January 28, 2011, 09:02:48 AM
Fantasy Author Blogs Fantasy Authors have some awesome blogs... here are my top 5. Feel free to add yours! :)

Peter V. Brett

Brandon Sanderson

Patrick Rothfuss

George R. R. Martin

Scott Lynch
(Seems not to update anymore though)

January 29, 2011, 07:09:40 AM
Re: The Future of Fantasy Personally I think it is going in the direction of being more reflective and first person based. Traditionally Fantasy has been set in the third person and the focus on Epic worlds. I think Fantasy is becoming more and more character orientated and in order to enforce this - we are getting brought closer to characters. We now experience far more from their eyes and their minds than before. I think authors such as Newton, Mieville, etc will continue to have their more unique worlds popularized, but I also thing pretty traditional fantasy tales will remain prevalent with more character emphasis and more dark tones as we continue moving away from the characters journey and towards the actual character.
February 14, 2011, 09:39:04 AM
Re: The Future of Fantasy I hope Urban Fantasy never gets called 'Fantasy' lol - that is one thing I am really, really hoping for. I like that most people are calling it 'Paranormal Romance' I can live with that. A girl at work was reading some Charlenne Harris (name?) novel the other day and said:
'I like Fantasy too'
'erm... NO! NO! You do not. Do you know what Lord of the Rings is? Do you know the characteristics of an Orc?'

Point Proved ::)

February 16, 2011, 11:02:05 AM
Re: Fantasy's Grim and Memorable Deaths
Okay, I'm going to be honest here: the death of Dumbledore left me in tears.


April 26, 2011, 03:58:03 PM