Today I have with me my first fantasy book review! Ever! And the lucky book is, Sabriel, which is also the first part of a trilogy, the Old Kingdom, which is written by an Australian author, Garth Nix.
Sabriel is a young necromancer as well as the only child of Abhorsen, the sole necromancer in the world who, instead of waking the Dead, ensures any Dead stays Dead. Despite her necromancer birthright, Sabriel grows up in Ancelstierre, away and separated by the Wall from the Old Kingdom. Ancelstierre is the south land of the Wall where magic doesn’t work like in the Old Kingdom. In here, Sabriel is same as any other teenager in Ancelstierre, a normal student of Wyverley College, contrasting the fact that her father fights the Dead as his life job in the Old Kingdom.
But it is Abhorsen himself, who insists on Sabriel living away from the Old Kingdom, where the Dead are roaming and ready to gorge any human off-guard. He is adamant that the Old Kingdom is no place for the inexperienced. Except that the responsibility Abhorsen’s daughter bears surely catches Sabriel everywhere she goes. For when a Dead visits her school one day, it is Sabriel who assumes the obligation to send the thing back to the Death. Although much to her surprise, the Dead visiting turns out to be her father’s messenger delivering a message that Abhorsen is either dead or trapped in Death.
Not having exactly many choices to take, as soon as she learns about her father’s situation, Sabriel packs up her things and sets off to her first solo journey to the Old Kingdom. Hopefully to save her father, but first, she needs to find way to her home. But little does she know, a much bigger and more perilous challenge has been on the road waiting for her.
I am so sorry but I think a review without spoiler wouldn’t do justice for this trilogy. Either that, or it’s just me that can’t resist the urge to discuss about the tale. But basically, without spoiler, all I have to say is I have heaps of complaints that are overflowing my cup right now, and if you’re a hardcore fan of this series, please please please would you set me straight on many things below?
But just to be clear, as a trilogy, the Old Kingdom is a superb one. So I hope I don’t deter you from reading it with my one or two words about complaints because trust me, that isn’t the message I am trying to convey. In fact, despite all the discontentment I had, I continued to read the story, and I am currently reading the last book of the trilogy, and let me tell you, the story has been going very, very strong.
But first, let me release this fault-finding tension in me!
So, watch it. Spoiler Ahead!
The introduction was way sluggish. Frankly, I think it probably had something to do with the lead character’s situation at the start. In this book, Sab was born as a necromancer and she had always been aware of that fact. And so the story was opened by a setting where Sab had been practicing some Charter Magic as a part of her daily life in school. Not in any way proper magic for Necromancer but it’s magic anyway. However, she lived away from the Old Kingdom – a place where the true adventure begins –, so naturally there were many things she didn’t understand that she still needed to learn about. But still, she started off already cognizant of magic-related stuff, just not the worst part.
In a way, I felt that I was left behind on the intro to the magic stuff, an area which Sab had always been familiar with, like the Charter, charter marks, free magic, and so on. It was starting to get okay though, once the story finally segued to the second part, which was the Old Kingdom. Because by then, Sab and I actually learned together about the Old Kingdom, something she and I equally didn’t know about.
Or, it was just me and my rotten imagination. In that case, the intro was probably slow only for me.
The pace didn’t get better for me until Touchstone came into the picture. It got slightly better when Mogget was brought in, but even then, I still felt the story was going at snail-speed. Not that Touchstone was the most interesting piece of the tale, but I got the notion that the quest only started rolling once the full team had been assembled.
The development of the story was also running inconsistently. It was long-winded for the first 200 pages or so, then it steeply sped up to a frantic braking all of sudden. At the onset, Sab was painted as an amateur necromancer who’d surely had tested her skills here and there, now and then. But she by no means was a ready-to-fight Abhorsen. And then there’s this big enemy, Kerrigor, who had been waiting for 200 years to come back to Life and whom even the line of former Abhorsens could only stall. But all those details that were already painstakingly laid out in those 200 pages were weaved only in one too short conclusion where the bumbling Sab effectively stopped him and turned him into a sleeping feline, with all of her inexperience and lack of information. Why? Was that dumb luck? My apologies, but luck, is so not sexy.
Close up, the ending felt like it was fast-forwarded. In a luck kind of way, Sab had all the right things at the perfect time. In the decisive dead or alive situation, Sab somehow had in her hand a crucial tool that she didn’t even need to study much as to how to wield it because for God’s sake, that very tool played out its own part very well. And by this, I mean the ring.
So here’s the irony. The ring was actually introduced to Sab by Mogget, an evil creature who tried to kill her twice, and then it was in her clutch at the end without her knowing, and what’s even worse was that it actually needed to expand itself just to remind Sab that she had it to use. So that’s it, Sab triumphantly used a powerful arm she didn’t remember having, winning a significant battle when she hadn’t even fully grasped what’s what yet. So my question is, who did defeat the foe? Sab or the ring? So, so not sexy.
Oh and while I am at it, one thing also I need to add. The spark between Touchstone and Sab? I didn’t get it. I didn’t feel it happening. At all. It was so out of the blue and so rushed, you’d think that it was somewhat being censored. Well, for what it’s worth, that’s probably what it was.
Thrill was nonexistent. I am actually not sure if this book is supposed to be thrilling at all. If that’s the case, then my bad. But as an amateur reader, I expected some and didn’t feel any, and to me, the biggest blame went to the lack of information of the final enemy, Kerrigor. There’s patches of facts of him here and there but it wasn’t in any way near enough words to give a complete picture of Kerrigor as an ultimate enemy. So yes, I was under the impression that he was supposed to be highly dangerous, and hungry for mythical power, but I didn’t feel the threats on my spine.
On top of that, many other things also went unexplained. For one, I think, we never really got to know how Touchstone got to Holehallow from the reservoir, nor how Mogget got to Wyverley College from the reservoir. Nor how Mogget escaped Kerrigor the first time, nor how he lost his collar. Oh and also, what was Mogget talking about when he was hinting about retribution? Now, I am just hoping that they have been saving all these secrets for the next two books to reveal.
Other than that, I feel like several unexplored things should have been better not skipped. One unmissable moment was when Touchstone stepped his foot in Ancelstierre for the first time. I was disappointed that he wasn’t even given proper time to absorb all changes that had happened for the past 200 years he had spent sleeping. Not to mention all those additional modernity year gaps between Ancelstierre and Old Kingdom! Just one or two pages recounting how he coped with all the too avant garde things should have sufficed I guess.
Mogget was my favorite part of the narrative as well as character, I treasured the fact that he was a grey area of in-between friend and evil. With the collar he was this sardonic cat-friend that’s almost nice, but without it he was a highly dangerous evil. I took the contrast very appealing. Sab failed to be my number one, but at least I liked her enough for her good spirit. Her positivity and bravery were absolutely needed and appreciated throughout their treacherous journey.
As for Touchstone though, I genuinely couldn’t see what’s cool about a scaredy-cat prince who repeatedly tried and failed to be heroic. And I was kind of sad that he was not killed in the final combat.
The weapon department was a bit muddy too. I totally understood the bells but I didn’t, and I still don’t, get why sword? When your enemy is the Dead, and swords don’t really work on them? Why sword? Because it’s cool and as long as it’s crammed with Charter marks it can be used? Yea, but aren’t all things then?
To sum up. Reading my own review, I am realizing now, that probably the main problem that I had with Sabriel was only the lack of consistency, in terms of pace and story-details. Wait, was that one or two things? Well, whatever. But I am no writer and I can’t even imagine how hard it is to write a trilogy. Maybe, it is a real pain in the ass to try to spread the same thickness of mystery, as well as to divide equal layer of excitement to three books. Maybe it is, maybe not. To find out, I guess I’ll have to leave to the two other following parts left to clear up all my confusions.
So that’s it for now, I’ll see you soon in Lirael review! Bye, Nerdies!