Garth Nix is the Master

sabriel coverJust finished Sabriel by Garth Nix.  I’ve read a lot of good young adult fantasy in the past year or so, but this is definitely one of the best.  The story follows Sabriel, the young daughter of the Abhorsen, a special kind of wizard who makes sure that the dead stay dead.  Sabriel has grown up outside the Old Kingdom, in the mundane world where magic has been forgotten.  When her father disappears, she’s discovered that his title as Abhorsen has passed to her, and she has to return to the Old Kingdom to rescue her father and save the Kingdom…

Nix has created a rich world, with magic that’s actually governed by rules and has limitations.  Even better, the rules are interesting and limitations make sense. The whole concept of magic being created through “charter marks” is great, and leads to lots of other fun corollaries, like creatures constructed out of charter marks or the paperwing as a means of transportation.  (I definitely need to get myself a paperwing.)

Garth does a great job of making sure his heroine is overwhelmed by the task at hand but is still strong and capable – always a hard thing to balance.  In Star Wars, Lucas manages it by giving his heroes almost no preparation, but has them quickly rise to the occasion because “the Force is strong with them.”  (Or, if you prefer the prequels, they have a high midi-chlorian count.)  Nix gives his heroine some strong innate abilities inherited from her magical Dad, plus a bit of schooling – but not nearly enough, because she was raised outside the Old Kingdom where magic dominates.  This also means she’s not quite clued into all the bad stuff that’s been happening in the Old Kingdom, which of course adds to the fun. (Plus, there’s a curse that stops anyone else from bringing her up to speed.  D’oh!)

It’s going to be hard to resist picking up Book 2 in this series the next time I’m at the book store…

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