Review: Sabriel by Garth Nix

Ever since she was a child, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the random power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead that won’t stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and to find him Sabriel must cross back into that world.

Though her journey begins alone, she soon finds companions: Mogget, whose seemingly harmless feline form hides a powerful spirit; and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. With only each other to trust, the three must travel deep into the Old Kingdom, toward a battle that will pit them against true forces of life and death — and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own hidden destiny.

Sabriel by Garth Nix. Book # 1 in the Abhorsen series. Audio book is read by Tim Curry. Published by Listening Library, Random House Audio, 2002. Originally published in 1996. Unabridged audio runs for 10 hours and 43 mins.

Before I even begin with the review, I just want to put it out there that I am NOT a big young adult fan and I am NOT a big fantasy fan. I’m a SUPER lenient reviewer 99% of the time, but I do tend to be harder on YA and / or fantasy titles. What can I say, I just don’t have much tolerance for them and they normally irk me off more then anything else I read. This was not a book I had picked myself. It is a book that was picked by someone from the supernatural themed book club I go to. I just wanted to say all that so you get an idea how this book is not normally something I would read on my own, so take my review with an extra grain of salt when you see what all I say.

Sooo….. As you may have gathered from that first paragraph, I…. didn’t really like this book. D:

Garth is an author I’ve heard in the horror community for a while now, so even though I really, really don’t like YA very much (it’s normally like 1 out of 5 YA books I will end up sorta liking, and that is a generous guess), AND I realllllllly don’t like epic fantasy stories (I’m sorry, y’all… I freaking hate Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Narnia, or any of the Harry Potter stuff. I know, I know… I’m basically the only person on the planet that can’t stand those books. I’ve tried, dude, but I just can’t), I tried with maximum effort to go into this book with an open mind instead of disliking it before I even hit play. I was slightly appeased by the fact that Tim Curry was narrating, because… Tim Curry, duh. I’ve read some of Garth’s adult horror short stories in anthologies, but this is the first time I had ever read a full length book from him. I had never even heard of this book before, but when I looked it up online, it appears to be a pretty big deal out there. LOTS of love for it.

I will say this, it did start off better then I thought. We open up with a nice creepy something or other going on. The story had a nice dark and gloomy vibe to it the whole time. Ok, I thought, maybe this won’t be so bad.

Well… was it just me, or did this book take for… EVER to get ANYWHERE?! o__o I had the audio book that was 10 discs and 10 hours long. So basically 1 hour, give or take, for every disc, right? Duuuuude I swear it took until disc 3 to EVEN GET MOVING with the plot!! I don’t mind a slow burn story, but this just felt like the story was dragging through mud the whole time. Even when we eventually got the story going, it still felt like not a lot was going on and it was still just so slow to get anywhere.

My biggest beef is that half the time I felt like I had zero idea what was going on! Ok, yes, my eyes tend to glaze over with epic fantasy books, so maybe that was part of the problem. I will acknowledge that. BUT… this book is a part one, that to me felt more like I was reading the middle of the series. I don’t even know how the author can be so descriptive and detailed with a lot of mundane stuff but then when it comes to explaining certain key elements to this world, we get nothing. OR, it takes til the end of the book to sorta kinda explain it. Like what exactly is Charter Magic and Free Magic? Both are VERY important to the story but we don’t really get a very good explanation. There is no real explanation about the charter marks on people’s foreheads- how they got them, what do they look like, etc. I didn’t really get the whole Charter Stones either… I mean, I get the basic gist of them but where the hell are the DETAILS? And, The Wall. Again, we get the basic idea of why it is there, but we never get great details about it either! The magic and the wall are just casually mentioned every now and then like I’m just supposed to already know about it?

And the nondescript generically termed Undead. Well…. WHAT kind of undead are we talking here? Are they zombies? Demons? Ghosts? Mummies? Ghouls? I don’t know!! D: Yeah, great, the main characters know all this stuff, but we don’t! If it’s such a big part of this world, can ya clue me in a little sooner (or at all) with details so I have a little more info to go off of other then super vague basic contexts clues? -_- This kind of stuff happened a lot in Sabriel, at least it felt like it for me. It really made it hard for me to get motivated to finish the book.

I don’t like feeling like I am missing information when I finish a book. It makes me feel stupid, and if I feel stupid reading your book, I’m not going to read any more of your work. It’s just that simple.

I’ve seen some reviews complain about how the characters acted. Like Sabriel acted like a baby, or some of the characters felt lacking in depth, and stuff like that. I didn’t think they were that bad, really. They were not the problem with this story. I liked Mogget a lot. Typical cat attitude, even though he was more then just a cat. I felt super bad for Touchstone. Man, he had it rough. It was pretty clear he felt defeated by life big time.

I didn’t have a huge problem with Sabriel (the character). Yeah, she did some stupid stuff but she was only a teenager… I mean, she wasn’t going to be super wise with her decisions and comments because she’s just learning how to adult. I’m 40 and I still can’t adult right. >.> Sabriel didn’t know anything about the world, or her identity in it. It felt like the book actually showed a lot of character development for her is just book 1, without it feeling too rushed. Normally in a series the character grows up over several books. ALSO… I will totally admit to bumping the rating up by a .5 because Sabriel brought the pet bunny back to life. Hey! You don’t kill the pets, ok? And Sabriel brought the pet back so she’s fine in my book.

I’ve also seen some of the people complain about the romance element appearing out of nowhere. I both agree and disagree with that. I DO agree that it kind of felt a little tacked on at the end of the book. But I also DON’T agree because you saw very slight hints through out the story… a couple of blushes, a couple of intense googly eyes, slight bumps into each other, brief hand holding, and so on. So, you could see that it was blooming into something between them. It didn’t just completely come out of left field. Maybe the “I love yous” at the end were a little bit hasty for just knowing each other for, what? 16 days or something? I don’t know… they did go through some pretty intense stuff and that kind of thing does bond people pretty tightly.

Although, I didn’t really like how heavy handed the implications were at the end about how Sabriel is the last in the like of Abhorsens…. *reads between the lines* …. unless she starts popping out babies with the King. Am I just over thinking it? Maybe? *shrug* I don’t know, but I definitely didn’t care much for it. It just felt like some old concept of your job is to just have babies. I’m sure that is not what Garth was trying to say and I’m sure he would have said it the same way if the genders of the main characters were swapped…. but, I don’t know… once I thought that, it was hard to unthink it. Man or women, I’m not a big fan of stories where there is a YOU MUST SAVE THE BLOODLINE!!! QUICK! HAVE SEX AND BABIES!!!! STAT!! That sort of plot point drives me bananas and is a super turn off to read more of the series.

I actually do like the fact that there was this super hawt guy by Sabriel’s side the whole time and she didn’t just fall head over heels gaga for him and let it distract her from her mission. I freaking hate when the girl characters do that in a story. 😡 For real, not all women just go all fan girl stupid when a cute guy is working with her, ok? That trope needs to die a fiery death now. Sabriel acknowledged that Touchstone was super cute and OCCASIONALLY thought of him other then just a person working with her, but for the most part Sabriel stuck to her guns. Her job was to find out what happened to her dad and learn about what is going on in the Old Kingdom and to learn about the Abhorsen. She wasn’t going to let anything, not even a cute guy, stop her from focusing on that.

Another powerful theme in this book is about the loss of family, friends, and just a sense of familiarity or belonging. Both the main characters spent the book trying to come to terms with the fact that their family was gone. On top of that, Sabriel had to deal with the familiarity of her whole life (her best friends and school she’s been at all her life, her teachers, where she lived, etc.) has been pulled out from under her. What do you do when everything that anchors you is gone? The author does it in a very nice, subtle way that shows the kind of denial and shock period of days, weeks, or months after you’ve learned that someone you loved died out of the blue and everything has changed at the blink of an eye. I really liked that it took a while for everything to sink in. It felt very realistic.

Do I really need to say anything about narrator performance? I mean… It’s Tim Curry. His voice is infamous, buttery perfection, you just want to pet it but you can. Of course he did an epic job on this! He nailed the emotions and personalities, and everyone felt distinguished from one another. He helped make this book feel more alive.

Sabriel had some nice creepy moments, and I was somewhat entertained. But with lacking details and a super slow crawl through the plot just made my brain hurt with questions. I felt more tedious frustration with this book then happily entertained. I don’t know if it was the writer, the story, or heavy fantasy just isn’t my cup of tea? Or maybe all of the above? Not sure. What I do know for sure is that I will not be reading anything else from this series. I wouldn’t necessarily kick any of the authors straight up horror stories out of bed just yet, though.

* more of a 3.5 round up because Sabriel saved the pet bunny.

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