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Garth Nix

Harper Collins

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-06-027322-4

Publication Date: 1995

289 Pages; $17.99

Date Reviewed: 09-10-03

Reviewed by: Katie Dean © 2003




'Sabriel' numbers amongst those fantasy novels written with a younger reader in mind, but which is a thoroughly enjoyable read for adults too. Garth Nix has created a truly believable fantasy world. He employs the traditional good versus evil theme in a story that maintains the reader's interest and introduces a very likeable and determined young woman as the heroine. 'Sabriel' offers an exciting and enjoyable dose of escapism.

Once again, the traditional theme of good versus evil, battling for control of the world, forms the central theme of this fantasy novel. However, Garth Nix has given it an interesting twist. He writes about a battle not merely between good and evil, but between life and death. Nix's view of death may not appeal to all tastes, but it is certainly imaginative and makes for a good storyline. Death in 'Sabriel' is a long cold river down which souls are pulled, all the time struggling to move back to life. Each soul must be dragged through several gates before finally reaching the release of everlasting death. Nix does not consider the meaning of everlasting death; there is no indication of whether this is a good or bad place or whether it involves some kind of eternal life. This view of death is concerned with the process itself, with the soul's desire to cling onto life at any cost. In so doing, dead souls pose a dangerous threat to those healthy beings left in life. This idea is fascinating in itself and is brilliantly brought to life by Nix's detailed descriptions.

Aside from a perhaps typical theme, 'Sabriel' also offers a typically fantastical land and a lot of magic. Once again, Garth Nix's imaginative and descriptive powers bring the worlds of Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom to life. He offers two lands not entirely different from our own, but with a fairytale feel. Magic is strongly present in Ancelstierre and is the driving force in the more traditional Old Kingdom. Children learn magic at school as we would learn science and adults use magic to complete everyday tasks. However, this is also a world with a clear social and political system based upon the magic that drives it. All these ingredients combine to create a thoroughly believable world.

Finally, 'Sabriel' offers a fast moving and exciting story. From the opening chapter, the heroine, eighteen-year-old Sabriel, demonstrates her remarkable powers combined with a strength of character beyond her years. Sabriel continues to develop and grow as the novel develops and the dangers and responsibilities she faces mount up before her. Nix succeeds in maintaining the drama throughout the novel, but never allows it to become unrealistic, saving a great climax for the final pages.

'Sabriel' is a fantasy novel that should appeal to all tastes. For those already well-versed in the fantasy genre, it offers all the ingredients one has come to expect from a good fantasy. It fits the description of fantasy as fairytales for adults and as such is also highly accessible for those who would not normally pick up a fantasy novel. Excitement combined with realism and all told using excellent descriptions make 'Sabriel' a thoroughly enjoyable read.