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Sabriel: The Abhorsen Trilogy, Book 1
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a dark, grim fantasy in which death is a prominent topic. Since there are obvious religious implications in any story dealing with the afterlife, those who will be offended if the author's imaginative creation conflicts with their beliefs probably should stay away. Also, there is a scene in which Sabriel hears a couple having sex, a surprising, unnecessary scene that pointlessly raises the recommended reading age.
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What's the story?
The world of this novel is split by the Wall. On one side is Ancelstierre, a fairly ordinary world of electricity and cars. On the other is the Old Kingdom, where magic works and the dead don't always stay dead. It is the job of the Abhorsen to deal with the incursions of the dead into Life. But now the Abhorsen himself is trapped in the land of the Dead, as one of the Greater Dead plots his downfall and the destruction of the Charter Magic that keeps the world in order.
So it falls to the Abhorsen's daughter, Sabriel, to try to rescue her father and prevent the powers of death from overwhelming her world. But Sabriel has grown up in a boarding school in Ancelstierre and, while she has had some training in magic and walking the land of the Dead, she lacks knowledge of the Old Kingdom and of the deeper levels of Charter Magic she will need to confront the most powerful beings from the other side.
Is it any good?
Garth Nix's first book for young adults, and the beginning of a trilogy, is not your typical modern fantasy. It's similar to the Earthsea books in that the action and suspense are built up slowly as the parameters of a world radically different from our own are set in place. For patient and experienced readers it is a treasure, but the first half may seem slow to those used to the slam-bang pacing of much modern fantasy.
All the characters are appealing, and there's a dry, understated wit. Rich and complex, the world Nix creates is at once vividly imagined and riddled with ambiguities -- even the characters don't understand everything about it, which leaves lots of room for more exploration in the sequels. In the meantime it's an engrossing, at times thrilling, and intellectually stimulating ride.
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