Written by: Garth Nix
Book #1 / 4 of the Abhorsen series
Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars
Summary: Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him, combating wielders of Free Magic and the Dead like on her way.
“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”
Review: It took me a lot to get through this book.
In theory, Sabriel seemed interesting, and I’ve seen a lot of people recommend it for those who like YA fantasy (aka me). It follows the tale of a girl named Sabriel born to a man named Abhorsen that basically protects the entire world from demons and spirits coming back from the dead. The amount of thought that Nix puts behind the rituals and traditions that keep this occupation alive and the world safe is applaudable, for sure… but sometimes, he focused too much on the detail and not enough on the story at hand. Nix would suddenly jump into a pages-long description of past event or complicated ritualistic process and then try to jump right back into the middle of whatever plot he was concocting before – and he never did it seamlessly. I felt like I was getting motion sickness from all the sudden movements in the book’s storyline. And even when he tried to go into detail, he did so in such a way that it implied I had already had a portion of the story before – and I hadn’t. Additionally, one of my biggest pet peeves in all of writing is when people use exclamation marks in the non-dialogue writing. For example: “Sabriel jumped off the cliff, and then she landed in the freezing cold water, drenching her cloaks!” (This is a totally fictitious sentence, but a solid example.) This makes me quickly label the book as juvenile, meant for a younger crowd, and not in a good way.
There is some juvenile literature that can be appreciated by all ages if it’s entertaining enough, but I just felt like Sabriel was too far of a reach for me. Besides the mediocre writing and whiplash storytelling effect, I didn’t even find the story to be all that interesting when Nix actually set out to tell it. I felt like most of the story was Sabriel running away from a minor villain who turned out not to be such a threat in the end, and a lot of it was spent with Nix explaining through Mogget and Touchstone to Sabriel and the reader of what was going on, because it was so unclear. It makes no sense to me how Touchstone and Sabriel formed any sort of relationship, as I’m pretty sure they never had a normal conversation that didn’t involve talk of the intricacies of Charter and Free Magic, and I can only hope Nix developed that a little bit more in subsequent books for the readers who are actually invested in whatever they are. I also wish that Nix delves more into the lands around them in subsequent books, because while they are offered in scenery, I’d like for them to come across larger swaths of people who are Charter Mages that help them out, because let’s be real – they’re a motley crew in dire need of some help. I know it’s hard to say a plot isn’t realistic when you’re talking about a fantasy novel, but there were just so many parts of the plot that simply didn’t make sense to me in a very basic way.
Usually, when a book isn’t written that well both in context of the quality and the actual interest I have in the story at hand, it only manages to score a 2 / 5, because I think 1 / 5 is pretty harsh. What brings most books down to 1s, for me, is when I then fail to like any of the characters – as is the case in Sabriel. First, there is the titular character Sabriel, and while she is definitely forced into the Abhorsen’s role with little to no prior training, she is still is not very quick on her feet and rather hapless and helpless throughout the entire story. Just when you think she’s beginning to build up a little confidence, or that Nix has finally developed a little more of her character to create something beyond a girl forced into an unwanted destiny, the detail or characterization is dropped and the plot moves on without it. Besides Sabriel, there is also Touchstone, an ancient soldier brought back to life in order to protect Sabriel and guide her through all the intricacies of their world and its relative magic. Although good in a fight, he basically as no personality due to basically being dead for centuries, and he also can be kind of brainless as well. The third part of their traveling trio is Mogget, a cat that I can only imagine as Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Anytime there’s a talking animal as a sidekick, I’m more likely to tap out; there are books few and far between that can pull off the whole talking animal thing without quickly delegating it to my “children’s books” list. Additionally, Mogget would just turn weirdly dark and sketchy and that was never fully explained, or understood by me. Even the villain isn’t well characterized in this book; instead, they always just seem like a distant black smudge on the horizon that looms more than anything else, and although I wanted more on them, I got a big fat ol’ nothing.
Ultimately, the only reason this book didn’t get a flat 1 / 5 stars from me is because it’s not entirely badly written like the other books I’ve given 1s to; it just wasn’t my personal cup of tea, at the end of the day. I can see why others may enjoy this series, but I as an individual couldn’t find anything in particular to connect to or enjoy. Like I said above, I am very interested in the world that Nix has created, but I simply can’t get into his writing well enough to dig deeper into it. I won’t be reading the rest of the series, as my TBR shelf is already big enough with books I actually want to read without forcing myself to read the rest of the Abhorsen series.