If you use Goodreads, then you probably noticed the website analyzes the history of your reading habit and recommends books to you. Goodreads has been a precious tool for me at discovering new books to read. If reading is your hobby but you don't have an account on Goodreads yet, then I recommend this website to you.
Goodreads frequently recommends Old Kingdom trilogy to me. This trilogy is a series of YA fantasy novels, written by Australian author Garth Nix. I was very reluctant at picking up these books. This is because I don't usually read YA books. Most YA books are about “coming of age”, and featuring characters whose moral alignments are often as clear-cut as good or evil. As a 30-something year old, I just can't relate to this kind of books.
However, critics and readers often rave about how good Old Kingdom trilogy is. After this trilogy appeared on my “recommended books” list for the Nth time, I decided to curb my bias and check out these books with an open mind. I picked up Sabriel, the first book in this trilogy and read it in 4 sittings. What do I think of it? Let me share my thoughts about Sabriel in a book review.
Beyond Ancelstierre lies Old Kingdom, a fantastic realm alive with wild magic cursing through its veins. On a moon-lit night, a woman in Old Kingdom swallowed her final breath after giving birth to a little babe. The baby's name is Sabriel and she is the daughter of Abhorsen, a powerful necromancer whose sworn duty is making sure the dead do not come back to bother the living.
When Sabriel was 5 years old, Abhorsen sent her to a boarding school in Ancelstierre. There in the safety of the boarding school Sabriel received her education, and spent most of her life away from her father, severed from her magical heritage in Old Kingdom.
Time flies as a swift arrow. In the blink of an eye Sabriel turned 18 years old and reached her final semester at the boarding school. Like her friends and classmates, Sabriel dreamed of an exciting future filled with potentials. However, Sabriel's aspirations and future plan took a 180 degrees turn, when a dire news reached Sabriel's ears; her father has gone missing.
Feeling distressed and concerned for her father's safety, Sabriel left the succor of the boarding school and journeyed to Old Kingdom in search for her father's whereabouts. This is a journey that will reshape both Sabriel's life and the face of Old Kingdom altogether.
My thoughts about this book:
Garth Nix published Sabriel in 1995. Since then, Sabriel (and the entire trilogy) gained a wide readership and fan devotions. It is sufficed to say this trilogy is beloved by many readers. I am a late comer to Old Kingdom trilogy. I read Sabriel last week and I liked this book despite YA fictions not being my cup of tea.
So, what does a 30-something year old man find captivating in a coming of age story about an 18 year old girl? Well to begin with, this book tells an engrossing tale. It brings to the table an interesting mixture between fantasy and horror. From the first page to the last, the story of Sabriel captured my imagination with fascinating characters and a beautifully portrayed fantasy world.
The world in Old Kingdom emanates a dark, Gothic vibe that came alive under Garth Nix's descriptive writings. When I was reading this book, I could feel an ongoing sense of danger lurking in the beautiful but haunted land of Old Kingdom. This sense of danger created an urgency in the story and kept the book moving at a fast pace. At the end of every chapter, I was compelled to continue on and explore the next chapter because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. When a novel makes you wanting to read it non-stop, then it is a sure sign of a successful novel.
Thus far I have praised this book, but this does not mean I think this book is perfect. There are a few things about this novel that I didn't like. First of all, Sabriel is not exempted from a cliched and predictable storytelling that has plagued most YA fictions. Like most YA books, Sabriel has a typical “ teenage romance story arc” at the end of the book. It is so predictable that I could smell a brewing romance when a young and handsome male character was introduced very early in the book. Secondly, very few characters appeared in the first 1/3 of the book. This made the beginning of the book felt a bit deserted and lonely. Perhaps it is the author's intention, to imbued a sense of bareness into the early chapters, thereby highlighting the evil forces' grasps on Old Kingdom. This means my 2nd complaint is more likely to do with personal preference (i.e. I personally prefer a fantasy novel buzzing with a large cast of characters).
Speaking of characters, this book presents some vividly depicted, and memorable characters. Sabriel is the protagonist in this book. It is refreshing to see a fantasy novel featuring a heroine instead of a male hero. It is usually said that male authors don't write female characters well. That is not the case here. Under Garth Nix's pen, Sabriel came alive on the pages as a well rounded, intricate and lively character. When I was reading this book, I cared for Sabriel and what happened to her. In turn, I was drawn deeply into the story.
My favorite character in this book, however, is a talking cat called Mogget, whose origin and background was shrouded in mystery. In this book, Mogget is Sabriel's animal companion. He played a crucial role in this book. Mogget usually talked to Sabriel in snarky words. Meanwhile, he also acted as a mentor for her. In this book, Mogget's moral alignment was not easily distinguishable and it remained so even at the end of the book, setting up the story for the sequel. I found Mogget to be an intriguing character, and I look forward to seeing the mysteries surround him revealed in the sequel.
Reading Sabriel turned out to be a delightful surprise for me. I am very glad to have curbed my bias against YA fictions and read Sabriel. Sure, while this book is not free from cliches commonly found in YA fictions, but these minor flaws are easily overcome by Sabriel's engrossing story. A story presented in captivating narratives, and took place in a beautifully envisioned, imaginative world. I look forward to reading the rest of this trilogy. In the meantime, I would recommend this book to lovers of fantasy fictions.
Until the next time, happy reading!