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. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.This book has sat on the bookshelf at my parents’ house for I don’t know how long, and I always thought about picking it up, but the cover inevitably turned me off. So when “Sabriel” came up as the book club selection for this month, I was pretty excited since it gave me a reason to finally buckle down and read it. And now I’ve been reminded for roughly the thousandth time that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
One of the first things that drew me into the story was the world building. It’s just really well done. See, the country’s divided into two parts: Ancelstierre, which in my mind is like a 1930s England, and the Old Kingdom, which is across the Wall and has the typical fantasy Middle Ages-y feel. So the combination of those two places already had me fascinated, and when you add to that dead creatures that don't stay dead and a necromancer who puts the dead to rest rather than bringing them back to life, I was hooked. And really, those things are just the tip of the iceberg of the world building the author does. Because there are also all these other aspects, like Charter Magic and Free Magic and the world of the dead, that I just don’t have time to go into.
Sabriel as a main character is truly awesome. She’s not sure what’s going on half the time, but she soldiers on anyway and faces challenges and freaky dead creatures with a courage, determination, and levelheadedness not often found in YA. And I loved that even after she meets Touchstone, a royal guard with a secret, Sabriel remains focused and clear-headed. She doesn’t get sappy or dreamy or whatnot—she keeps her eye on her goal.
Actually, in retrospect, I’m not sure if I’m convinced Touchstone is a strong enough character to be Sabriel’s match. I understand why he’s a bit unsure of himself, but I definitely felt like Sabriel was his superior rather than him being her equal. Plus, I didn’t feel like there was enough emotion written into the book for me to really understand Sabriel and Touchstone’s relationship. I kinda want to just blame that on the fact that the book’s written by a male author, but that’s probably not entirely fair. Either way, though, I could've done with a few more feelings to go along with all the action. Though I guess the way its written makes it a more bracing story than it would've been with teenage emotions and hormones tempering the action.
Besides the whole Touchstone issue, my only other problem with the book is the ending. There was absolutely no post-climax resolution. There wasn’t any time for me to catch my breath. It just went from a super suspenseful scene directly into a short epilogue. And I could understand that method if it was supposed to be a cliffhanger for the next book, but I’m under the impression that the second book changes main characters and has a different focus than “Sabriel.” So I was left feeling like the resolution was a bit lacking.
And before I finish up this review, I just have to say, MOGGET. I’m a cat person, so maybe I’m a little biased, but he’s seriously the best.
Overall, a well-written fantasy that kept me turning the pages. There were a few things I wish were done differently, but generally I liked it a lot and will most likely be reading the rest of the series.
Rating: 4 / 5