When the book Clariel, a prequel to Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series, came out earlier this year I was excited but also worried. I loved the Abhorsen books in middle and high school, but would I still love them if I re-read them? Sometimes re-reading books reminds you who much you loved and still love them, and other times it makes you think, “Why did I like this again?” I wanted to re-read the whole series again and then read Clariel. I have really distinct memories of seeing Sabriel at the school library in elementary school and being intrigued.
I mean, just look at this cover and tell me you aren’t intrigued. (Sadly, all the books in the series have been re-issued with covers more like the Clariel cover so that they look like every other YA series with a round fiery symbol on the front.)
It’s got an interesting looking, badass young lady on the cover with bells, a sword, her clothes have keys on them, and the hem is turning into a wave. Plus, there’s a terrifying creepy monster behind her! I think that the illustration is gorgeous and I think it took me a while to read the book because of the cover. I think I was afraid it wasn’t going to be as great of a book as the cover made it appear to be.
But I loved it and I read the next two books in the series, and even Nix’s collection of short stories set in the world of the Old Kingdom. In the first book, Sabriel, a school girl in nonmagical Ancelstierre, has to travel back to the magical Old Kingdom to save her father, the Abhorsen, a man who uses magical bells to send the Dead back to Death. Death is a river with a series of gates, and each of the bells has a specific power like putting people to sleep, making them walk into Death, binding them, etc. Along the way she meets a peculiar cat named Moggett, and Touchstone, a super hot prince-turned-statue-turned-prince-again. Finding her father on his way to Death, she assumes the title of Abhorsen and with the help of her friends binds the big, bad, evil Kerrigor and saves the Kingdom!
In the next two books, Lirael a daughter of this matriarchal society of seers feels outcast until she finds her calling with the children of Sabriel and Touchstone. There’s more but I’m still in the first third of Lirael and don’t remember what comes next.
And how could I forget that Lirael spends some time as a librarian! I must say that the equipment she receives on her first day – fancy emerald bracelet that serves as a magical key, whistle, clockwork mouse, DAGGER – is way cooler than what I got: key to my office in a shape of a regular key and passwords to my email. Not as exciting. Her library also has more thrilling, dangerous, and interesting things than mine: “There were also very special or dangerous items that had to be fetched in person, or even by large parties of armed librarians.” Fun!
It’s been so wonderful to revisit a world that I loved when I was younger. The books have all the touchstones (see what I did there?!) of what I love about fantasy series: magic, badass ladies (the Old Kingdom is really egalitarian as Abhorsens can be men and women, the royalty is the same, and the magical seers the Clayr are all women), magical objects (the bells) with special properties with special bonus points for having a rhyme about them, old prophecies, and impish talking animals.
I’m having a great time re-reading the series and if you are interested you should definitely check them out. What books from your younger years do you still love or have re-read recently?
[Edited to add this sweet cosplay!! This woman did some amazing work!!!]
7 thoughts on “Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series”
Do you think Noah is old enough for this series? Sounds like something he’d like.
Maybe, I don’t know. There is a scene in Sabriel where she hears a couple next door to her having sex and she gets all huffy because she thinks it’s Touchstone (spoiler – it’s not). But there’s a chance that could go over his head? I definitely think he would like it and if he can handle the scary parts of Harry Potter than he can handle the scary parts of this. That one scene is the only one in the first book that I can think of that’s somewhat scandalous. In book 2 Lirael talks about the women of the Clayr “taking lovers.” So up to you.
The Sabriel hardcover was shelved in the dimly-lit ADULT section of my library (before they reorganized to include YA books in their own section) and I remember reading the flap several times before getting up the nerve to check it out. I had read Shade’s Children earlier and found it almost too exciting for my fragile temperament, so I was hesitant to pick up Sabriel but I’m so glad I did. I reread them every few years. I’m really interested to hear what you think of Clariel! It’s a very different Old Kingdom than the earlier books.
Isn’t the cover just a perfect mix of beauty and terror? Perfect for kids! (I’m not joking!!) Shade’s Children freaked me out and I read it last year…..
I remember sitting in freshmen Geography class and having to look up and around every paragraph while reading Shade’s Children to remind myself that this book was FICTION.
Also, you’ll especially appreciate this woman’s awesome Sabriel cosplay project: http://elentari-liv.deviantart.com/gallery/36863933/The-Sabriel-Project
I read in middle/high school as well, so i will have to revisit. I, too, loved the cover art.