Cover Sabriel: A girl wears a bandolier of bells and holds her hands up in magic symbols

About the Book

Title: Sabriel (Abhorsen #1)
Published: 1995
Series: Abhorsen
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

BFF Charm: Heck Yes!
Talky Talk: Magically Delicious
Bonus Factors: Zombies!
Relationship Status: Eternal Love

The Deal:

Sabriel lives in a nifty little world similar to ours, at least on the Ancelstierre side of the wall. On the other side, in the old kingdom, there’s magic — controlled, benevolent charter magic and the rougher, unlawful free magic. Sabriel’s pale, mysterious father Abhorsen sends her to a boarding school close to the wall in Ancelstierre, close enough for her to be able to study magic as well as biology, maths and all that other fun stuff. Just as Sabriel nears graduation, her father disappears and she gets a message from a disturbing free magic creature. Abhorsen is trapped in death (oh yeah, did I tell you Abhorsen — and Sabriel — are necromancers whose job is to bind the unruly dead and keep them from wreaking havoc on the living?) and it’s up to Sabriel to save him. Armed with a set of bells and a magical sword, Sabriel sets out on her quest accompanied only by Mogget, a horrible little white cat (but really a free magic creature bound by the abhorsen family centuries earlier). Ok, I know it sounds like a typical geeky quest fantasy, but it’s SO NOT! Mogget’s reluctant servitude and Sabriel is totally strong and awesome enough to be invited to Katniss and Katsa’s awesomeness party. Good news when you get to the end? It’s the first book in a trilogy! And the books only get more awesome!

BFF Charm: Heck Yes!

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

Sabriel’s totally different from lots of my favorite YA heroines. She’s really self assured (ya know, like, cos she’s been fighting dead people since she was 12), but she’s also endearingly clueless about boys. She also has a grouchiness I really like (maybe cos it’s a lot like my own …). She does struggle with the enormity of her task and her inexperience (Hello! Rescue dad from like the 7th or 8th gate of death — there are only 9 — kill loads of zombies, figure out what happened to the old kingdom’s ruling family, learn enough charter magic to repair the protective wall that keeps armies of dead from rising and swarming over the wall into Ancelstierre), but she comes out on top.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

There are some cute moments with Touchstone (like when the spell that turned him to stone is broken, and he’s totally naked, which freaks Sabriel out), but the focus of the story is way more on Sabriel’s awesome zombie killing skills and her determination to save her father and the kingdom.

Talky Talk: Magically Delicious

My favorite thing about this book is how normal all the magic stuff seems. Garth Nix just assumes you know what he’s talking about, and doesn’t waste time explaining stuff like free magic and charter magic. And you know what? It all makes sense. He’s also really good at writing from the perspective of an 18-year-old girl, and he doesn’t make Sabriel dumb or swoony or anything but wicked awesome.

Bonus Factor: Zombies!!

Zombies! The zombies in these books aren’t CALLED zombies (which I think gives it an edge of cool…I mean, zombies are SO overdone). They’re simply the dead, or Hands. But they’re definitely zombiriffic — rotting limbs, vacant obedience to evil sorcerers, near-unstoppability, really really gross.

Relationship Status: Eternal Love

Srsly, I lurrrv this series. I read it at least once a year, and I have the audiobooks on my iPod and relisten to them often, sometimes just bits and pieces. This series kept me up v. v. late many times because I.Just. Had.To.Know. I’ll be reviewing the other two books soon — Lirael and Abhorsen.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy for review. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Sabriel is available now.

Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.