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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
What are you currently reading? Thought I'd start this thread so we can discuss what we're currently reading, whatever the book!!   ;D

I'm reading the first book in Terry Brooks' The Word and the Void trilogy, Running with the Demon.  I've slowly been working my way through all the Brooks' books and I have to say, this book is very good - different to his Shannara books, but in a good way.  It's set in America with only touches of magic so far.  Easy to read and the characters are well thought out.

January 04, 2011, 09:25:12 AM
Re: Super Dialogue Challenge Okay, I'll play. :)  I'm trying to avoid working on my pitch anyway. ;)  I think I understand what you mean, but let me know if this is set up right or not.  This is a conversation that two of my characters might have had in my book, if I'd written this scene. :)


What are you doing down here Mac?


What are you supposed to be doing?

I’m supposed to be giving these wanted posters to the boss.  But I’m avoiding it like the plague.  What are you supposed to be doing Joey?

Exactly what I am doing: checking on you!  Mistress Maggie has been waiting for those posters for over an hour now!  She finally sent me down to find out what was keeping you!

Meh.  I’ll get to it.  It’s not like someone is going to come through the checkpoint in the next two minutes that just happens to have a bounty on them.

Really?  That would be amusing wouldn’t it?  Oh I’m sorry Sir Barret.  We didn’t catch the traitor, because we didn’t have updated posters when they went through.  We only realized they were wanted after they were long gone!  We promise we’ll do better next time!

Oh stuff it!  You just want me to go back up there so Maggie can assign me to the lamest checkpoint we’ve got for the night!  You’re such a bloody brown-nose!

And you are a first class slacker!  If you’d just brought her the posters as soon as they’d come in, you wouldn’t be in trouble in the first place!

That I highly doubt that.  No matter what I do that woman has it out for me!  I think I must have wronged her in a past life or something.

Well, it doesn’t matter either way at this point.  You’re needed upstairs.  I came to find you.  And look, I succeeded.  Now get upstairs before she comes down and kicks both our asses!

Fine.  I’m going.  But I’m telling you, this is all just an evil plot to make my life miserable!

Right, because you’re so important, that Mistress Maggie gives a rat’s ass about whether you are happy or not.  Get going!

I’m going!  I’m going!  I so need to find a better hiding spot…

January 20, 2011, 03:37:55 AM
Re: Super Dialogue Challenge Okay, here's my go at it.  Everyone please let me know what you think.

“What is the last thing you remember?”

“I..I…I saw the crack in the cannon before it became a weapon against its masters.  It exploded and tore everyone within twenty steps to shreds.”

“That’s not the last thing you remember.  You didn’t die, not there.  Look around.  You’re in a desert.”

“Maybe wit ya dead men do tell a tale, but ain’t very akcrite.”

“Shhh, let it speak.”

“I..I awoke to the silence of corpses and the caws of crows, crows everywhere, feasting.  Men, food for birds.  It’s not right.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t let it happen to me.  I stuffed my fiancé’s letters into the coat pocket of a man that no longer had a face.  I stole the first horse that still stood and rode it until it dropped dead.”

“A deserter, him deserves ta git kilt.”

“I didn’t waste a spell to hear your attempts at speech.  Go on, soldier.”

“I was a coward.  I know.  That bothered me most, but I couldn’t go back.  They would hang me.  The things I’ve done to survive.  I hurt people, murdered them, but I always buried them if I could.  I wouldn’t leave them for those damnable birds.”

“How did you get here, to this wasteland?”

“Ya, git to da part ya gits kilt.”

“I was with a man as horrible as me, worse.  Watson, James Watson.  He shot me in the back for my pistol and my last three bullets.  I fell here and before I died I could see them circling, damnable birds.  I reached for my coat pocket where I had kept her letters, but it was empty.  I swear…”

“Ah, why ya go and drop ya stone.  He ‘ad more story ta tell yet.”

“They go on as long as you let them, about regret, about how they would have done it different.  It’s pointless to listen to and we got the name we needed.”

“Why ya cuttin’ off his finger?  Ain’t the birds ate him up enough?”

“If you think I’m leaving behind the trigger finger of a murdered murderer, you’re insane.

“Ya goin’ ta use it fer more necromansy?”

“Necromancy.  It’s called necromancy.”

January 22, 2011, 03:24:00 AM
Re: Reading outside your comfort zone Heh - maybe I've been lucky, but recently I've had a higher 'hit rate' reading outside my comfort zone than in it!

The last 3 books I put down and gave up on were fantasy & I love fantasy. I read two 'chick-lit' books this year (high-brow chick-lit, but still chick-lit I think) and enjoyed them, a crime thriller last year, some modern literary fiction and some classics ... all good.

I don't think anyone has a 'duty' to broaden their horizons though - why shouldn't you stick to what you like? Reading is for pleasure, not to satisfy some kind of obligation. I read more widely because I enjoy it & also because it strengthens my own writing.

April 13, 2011, 06:07:00 PM
Favourite Fantasy Quotes? What are you favourite Fantasy Quotes?

Mine would be:

"It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That's as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect."
— Patrick Rothfuss (The Wise Man's Fear)

"Welcome to adulthood." Cob said. "Every child finds a day when the realize that adults can be weak and wrong just like everyone else. After that day, you are an adult. Like it or not."
— Peter V. Brett (The Painted Man)

"Do you know what punishments I've endured for my crimes, my sins? None. I am proof of the absurdity of men's most treasured abstractions. A just universe wouldn't tolerate my existence."
— Brent Weeks (The Way of Shadows)

"It's easy to believe in something when you win all the time...The losses are what define a man's faith."
— Brandon Sanderson (The Well of Ascension)

"Some day, Locke Lamora,” he said, “some day, you’re going to fuck up so magnificently, so ambitiously, so overwhelmingly that the sky will light up and the moons will spin and the gods themselves will shit comets with glee. And I just hope that I’m still around to see it.”
“Oh please,” said Locke, “it’ll never happen”."

— Scott Lynch (The Lies of Locke Lamora)

June 15, 2011, 12:50:21 PM
Re: Favourite Fantasy Quotes? I was reading The Desert Spear today, and came across this thought of Arlen's. This tops my list of favorites:

"There were few balms so sweet as choking the life from a demon with one's bare hands."

June 15, 2011, 10:56:24 PM
Re: Favourite Fantasy Quotes? Some more Name of the Wind quotes I wrote down:

"When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind."

"When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind."

"I also felt guilty about the three pens I'd stolen, but only for a second. And since there was no convenient way to give them back, I stole a bottle of ink before I left."

"It's the questions we can't answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he'll look for his own answers."

June 17, 2011, 11:56:27 AM
Re: Does reading Fantasy make you want to wield a bow / sword? what Christina wants is a cycling based fantasy series.

The Tour de MiddleEarth. 

Who would win? the elves are best at sprints, but the dwarves have stamina.  The humans have a good all round game, but those orcs are c**ts and just smack everyone else of their bikes. 

January 06, 2012, 06:13:29 PM
The Killing Moon - NK Jemisin Don't usually post my full reviews here, but figured this one probably holds some interest for people given she was up for the Hugo last year.


Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin's Hugo nominated debut, was one of the first novels reviewed on this blog. I said:
Jemisin presents a style that is uniquely intimate. I often felt like a voyeur lurking on the outskirts of something I shouldn't be seeing. It is beautifully written and brims with emotion.

I said a lot of other things about it too, not all of which were terribly smart (I was just starting!). While I haven't managed to read the subsequent two volumes in her Kingdom of the God's trilogy, the outstanding nature of the first novel put The Killing Moon on my radar as soon as it was announced for 2012 release.

To anyone paying attention to genre scuttlebutt, it's common knowledge that Jemisin is one of the more outspoken proponents of bringing new points of view to the fantasy lexicon. Whether that means non-western cultures, strong female characters, or more challenging narrative structures, she's practiced what she preaches. In Killing Moon the focus is more on the first two, eschewing the more complex narratives of her past work. The result is a plot oriented novel that will appeal to traditional fans of high fantasy as well as those tired of reading recycled characters and worlds.

In the city-state of Gujaareh, the only law is peace. Ruled by oligarchy, the city's reigns are held by the Prince and the Hetawa -- the dreaming goddess Hananja's clergy. Each night her Gatherers go forth, bringing the gift of a peaceful, dreaming death to those corrupt of thought and deed. From those last moments comes dreamblood, tithe to the goddess and her servants. Collected by the Gatherers and given to the Sharers, it is used to heal, soothe, and control.

Ehiru is a gifted Gatherer, a paragon of faith and purpose. He believes in his city and his goddess, but nothing, even the holiest organization in Gujaareh, is immune to corruption. When Ehiru and his apprentice, Nijiri, find themselves torn between their faith, their Prince, and the truth, they'll go to any length to do what's right. Unfortunately, the only person who believes them is Sinandi, a foreign spy who would prefer to see the whole city crumble to the ground.

Killing Moon consists of three primary points of view, all written from a tight limited third person -- Ehiru, Nijiri, and Sinandi -- each with their own voice. Ehiru, although arguably the novel's protagonist, fades into the background as the true believer who finds himself questioning his ingrained beliefs. In stark contrast, Nijiri and Sinandi brim with life. The former rejects the young apprentice model of learning his craft at the knee of his wizened master, becoming the novel's moral center from the get go. Most importantly that moral center doesn't necessarily reflect the reader's concept of morality, but his and Gujaareh's.

Sinandi completes the second aspect of Jemisin's quest to improve genre fiction. She possesses tremendous agency, never compromising herself for the whims of men.

"And then you shall stand beside him in the Protectors' Hall and beg them for help, knowing that your every word increases my power. Then they will listen to me even though I'm only Kinja's too-young, unseasoned daughter. We must use one another now, little killer, if we are both to achieve our goals." -N.K Jemisin, The Killing Moon

Exhibited by that statement, Sinandi is a force of nature, a strong woman who exhibits femininity without sacrificing strength. She never picks up a weapon; nor does she wear men's clothing. And like Nijiri, her sense of morality is grounded in her character and the culture from which she springs.

In that lies thematic thrust of Killing Moon. Cultural identity is at the root of every conflict. Whether it be Ehiru's faith and Sinandi's lack thereof, or Nijiri's struggle with love and duty, or Sinandi's fear of war and peace, all of it is built upon the idea that right and wrong is relative. Point of view and perspective matter. Cultural mores matter. Jemisin seems to project, through her world and her characters, a pervasive and underlying belief in the notion that judgement can only come from within. There's also a strong undercurrent of communism versus democracy, or close mindedness versus openness, or extremism versus tolerance, that bleeds through. Even then Jemisin seems to remain agnostic, pointing out the flaws in each and letting her characters choose for themselves the paths to walk.

From all accounts, it seems Jemisin based much of these cultural identities on an Egyptian model. News to me, only because none of the cues I would normally associate with Egypt were present -- pyramids, cat worship, umm... long goatees. But, that's the point isn't it? I don't know a damn thing about Ancient Egypt other than what I've seen in heavily stereotyped Egyptian garnished westernized media. Much of what I read of Jemisin's world felt new and fresh, even among all the excellent Eastern fantasies to come out over the last twelve months (Range of Ghosts, Emperor's Knife, Blackdog, et. al.). So much so that I quickly found myself down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, educating myself on the nature of Egyptian culture and mythology (a fact I'm sure Jemisin would take great pleasure from).

All of that excludes the primary take away from The Killing Moon. This is one hell of an exciting book. I hate to use the term tour de force because it sounds like I'm writing for some terrible literary newsletter who can only recycle superlatives from movie posters, but... it's a tour de force. From the opening moments the novel dazzles with intricate world building, deep and vibrant characters, and a fast paced, high stakes plot that left me bleary eyed from lack of sleep more than once.

I'm sure Someone, somewhere is reading this and saying, "Ya, but I didn't really like her first novel that much." For those I say, this is the novel that will make you fall in love with N.K Jemisin. For all the rational people who loved her past work, keep reading. It only gets better.
The Killing Moon is due out in stores May 1, with its sequel The Shadowed Sun available June 12. It should be noted here that the first novel stands entirely on its own. Reading it immediately on release will not have you cursing the gods that the second one is not available for five weeks. That said, you'll be very excited when the second novel comes out. It's that good. You can find Jemisin on Twitter @nkjemisin or on her website at nkjemisin.com.

April 03, 2012, 08:50:05 PM