My first introduction to Sabriel was a quote I came across on Goodreads, completely out of context:
“I love you,” he whispered. “I hope you don’t mind.”
I don’t know what it was about these words that held me hostage but I knew that I had to find out what was going on here. So I checked Scribd, and low and behold, the audiobook was available. I snapped up a copy of the paperback from Thriftbooks for just over $3 so I could read along, and I dove in without looking into it further.
The story begins with eighteen year old Sabriel bringing a dead rabbit back to life. We learn that she’s just finished up her final term at Wyverly College, a boarding school for young women who wish to be educated in all the usual subjects plus Magic, assuming they’ve been granted special permission.
The land of Ancelstierre is bisected by The Wall which designates the border of the Old Kingdom where magic is more powerful and the dead oftentimes refuse to stay dead.
Sabriel’s father is the legendary Abhorsen, a gifted necromancer tasked with laying said spirits to rest. So when she discovers that he is missing– either dead or trapped in the land of the dead, she must go on a journey to find him.
Sabriel is a fantasy quite unlike anything else I’ve read. While the plot itself is nothing crazy, (young girl must go on a quest to discover her missing relative and also perhaps, herself) the world that the story takes place in is wholly original.
I loved the idea of a wilderness beyond The Wall where magic is unpredictable and danger lurks around every corner.
I was also fascinated by the nine gates in the realm of Death that a spirit passes through before it is truly gone for good. When Sabriel passes over into this world, her body becomes frosted over and she finds herself standing in a river. Each gate is some sort of body of water. One is lake, another is a waterfall, and so on. It creates a fascinating and sort of creepy atmosphere as creatures may remain hidden from sight beneath the surface.
Sabriel wields a bandolier containing seven bells. Each bell has a different name (Ranna, Kibeth, and Saraneth to name a few.), they all make a unique sound, and they all do different things. For example, Dyrim has a clear and pretty sounding tone and can either return a voice to a spirit or silence one that speaks too freely. This is so cool!
Sabriel herself is a really likeable character. Overall, she’s a good person with a kind heart. She’s also incredibly brave. This isn’t to say that she never gets scared, she certainly does, but she fights back anyway and keeps on pushing forward.
Also in the main cast is Mogget, a powerful spirit trapped in the body of a white cat, indebted to do the Abhorsen’s bidding. He reminded me a lot of Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle. (There are actually quite a few elements of this story that had me thinking about Ghibli movies)
The story gets moving right away and it’s never really dragged down at any point which is nice. I often found myself thinking about it while I was at work or driving somewhere. It just has this way of sinking in and not letting go until the very end. And even then, this book was on my mind for days.
Everything about Sabriel is incredibly subtle, from the magic system, to the story line and its characters. There are very few scenes with all-hands-on-deck action (and those scenes are done phenomenally well), but its no less impactful because of it.
I cried at the end of this book. Partly because it’s very emotional, but mostly because I’d come to feel at home within these pages, and finishing it felt like I had to pack up and move on before I was ready.
I’m so amazed by how rarely I see this book getting the attention it deserves. Sabriel is a highly underappreciated book and I would recommend it to anyone who needs some courage and a little magic in their life.
Oh, and the audiobook is narrated by Tim Curry. Like, THE Tim Curry. So if you really need another reason to pick up Sabriel, there you go.
Final verdict: ★★★★ (4.5 stars)
A huge thank you to the following accounts on Bookstagram who assured me how much I’d love this book, and who were absolutely correct:
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you all have a lovely day.