Original US cover, pulled from Goodreads


Title: Sabriel (The Old Kingdom #1)

Author: Garth Nix

Published: 1995 (AU), 1996 (US)

Genre: Fantasy

Awards: Aurealis Award for both fantasy and  Young Adult Novel (1995), Ditmar Award nominee (1996), Abraham Lincoln Award nominee (2005)

Rating: 5 stars & Buy it!

“It was little more than three miles from the Wall into the Old Kingdom, but that was enough.” (pg. 1)

In a land where a wall separates the unruly, dangerous Old Kingdom from the modern and magic less Ancelstierre, a young woman named Sabriel attends her final college semester. But a messenger carries news of her father’s disappearance. Armed with knowledge of magic from her father, the Abhorsen, Sabriel goes beyond the Wall and into the Old Kingdom to find her father and finds her destiny in the process.

So why do I love this book so much? Well, here’s the 5 reasons why you should check out this classic fantasy book!

1. magic system

The magic in this series is an original and dangerous take on wielding magic. The Abhorsen is the only person who controls seven bells to keep the dead down. The smallest bell Ranna will induce sleep, while the largest, Astarael will send you and the demon past the Ninth Gate with no return. The Abhorsen feels both the power and the risk with using these enchanted bells. Each bell has its own purpose to aid the Abhorsen, but one must be expeirenced and prepared for any consequences that follow. Sabriel knows these bells from her reading and seeing her father use them. But she starts to grow into her confidence to use these bells as she fights both the undead and Kerrigor.

Not only that, but the magic is separated into two categories in this world: charter marks and free magic. The Abhorsen’s magic uses the charter marks. They represent order and control when used correctly. Drawing certain symbols can help strength a healing spell for example. Free magic is that which wild creatures, conjurations and corrupt necromancers use. It’s a tempting magic that ensnares the senses and exploits your hidden desires. This magic isn’t as apparent in this first book, but is explored later in the series.

I have never seen a magic system like this again. It’s fierce, dangerous and glorious to watch unfold in this series.

2. THE world

The world in this series is vast, mysterious and beautiful. You only see a few locations in this first book, but you get a real sense of the wilderness of the Old Kingdom. Since no monarchy controls the Old Kingdom, the dead wander the forests and common roads. It feels like a vast, untamed by human hands for centuries. The descriptions of nature are gorgeous and offer vivid pictures during this epic adventure.

“Cloven Crest lay before her. A narrow ridge where several slopes of the hill met to form a miniature plateau, with a slight depression in the middle. Snow lay in this depression, a fat, cigar-shaped draft, bright in the moonlight, stark white against the red granite. There were no trees, no vegetation at all, but in the very centre of the drift, a dark grey stone cast a long moonshadow.” (pg.55)

2014 Australian edition, pulled from Goodreads

3. no common ya tropes!

You heard me. No love triangles, miscommunication, instalove…nothing! It’s great to find a book, whether newer or older, that doesn’t have the common tropes we’re getting tired of in young adult literature. This is a story of a girl who wants to find her father, fights undead, learns more about the world around her and discovers her true destiny. Touchstone is a love interest, but it’s not a large subplot at all. It’s a tiny bit rushed, if I’m being honest, but it’s a positive relationship and they’re great for each other. Any tropes that people do see in here, I never have a problem with. This is a great adventure story that’s free of current cliches that grate against our eyes.

4. sabriel herself

Before there was Katniss or Helene Aquilla, there was Sabriel. This is a girl who is intelligent, determined to see her goals through and shows no fear in combat. She can be stubborn and not see other people’s views right away, but she does grow and become more open minded by the end. She seeks to help others and you feel the anxiety she has for her missing father. To me, this is a female role model for young girls: be smart, be strong but always be kind and help others. She also lets herself be saved once in a while. She allows her companions to feel needed and important, instead of just having a group around her. She is a protagonist we need more of in literature.

5. the audio book

I’ve listened to this story through audio book form for every re-read. Tim Curry is the narrator for this book and the next two and offers a beautiful narration to this story. Garth Nix himself has said how he pleased and fortunate he was to get Tim Curry to do the audio books. Curry brings charisma, danger, evil and plenty of rich tones to the story. You feel like you’re being told a dark tale by a  powerful, ominous voice. If you can do audio books, I actually recommend listening to this book if it’s your first time experiencing it. No narrator can ever match what Tim Curry brought to this series.

Of course, there’s many authors that credit this book for being an influence to them when it comes to fantasy books. Here’s a few others that have praised this series:

  • Phillip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass
  • Holly Black, author of The Darkest Part of the Forest
  • Alison Goodman, author of the Eon duology and The Dark Days Club
  • Brandon Sanderson, author of The Rithmatist, Steelheart and Mistborn
  • Scot Westerfeld, author Uglies and Leviathan
  • Leigh Bardugo, author Six of Crows

I hope you enjoyed this review of one of my favorite books of all time. I’ll be posting more “Five Reasons” reviews for underrated books that I want to share with everyone. I hope that I convinced you to try this influential book. Comment below and tell me if you’ve read it and what your thoughts are. Have a great day guys!

*Quotes pulled from the Australian edition