The Top 5: Sabriel by Garth Nix

“You’re going to be leaving us, aren’t you?” the Magistrix said suddenly, as Sabriel replaced the bell and stood up, sword in one hand, bandoleer in the other. ” I just saw it, in the reflection of the bell. You were crossing the Wall…”

“Yes. Into the Old Kingdom,” said Sabriel.


In Sabriel’s world, there are dead who won’t stay dead. As daughter of the Abhorsen, skilled mage and binder of the dead, Sabriel knows that one day the responsibility of keeping the kingdom safe will fall to her, but that day may be coming sooner than she was ever prepared for. Armed with her father’s sword and bandoleer of magical bells, Sabriel must find the courage take on the horrors waiting in the Old Kingdom, a troubled land she has not visited since she was a child.

The first novel in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, Sabriel is a wonderful, gripping story full of danger and mystery. What struck me most about this book is the way Nix manages to envelop the reader into his universe from the first pages. The imagery is beautiful, the story compelling, and the touches of humour throughout mean that you come to care deeply about the characters; you feel their fear, and their joy. Sabriel is far from prepared for the trials that the journey to find her father will force her to overcome, and she desperately needs the support and guidance of her companions; companions who have their own struggles and dark secrets.

“Astarael, the sorrowful,” whispered Sabriel. Astarael was the banisher, the final bell. Properly rung, it cast everyone who heard it far into death. Including the ringer.”

With Sabriel, Nix creates a fantasy universe rich in its own lore and history, which leaves you hungry for more. One of the most fascinating aspects of the series for me has always been Nix’s presentation of the journey to the afterlife, conceptualised as a bleak, cold river spanning the border of life and death.  The series (thankfully) continues in Lirael and Abhorsen, and the recently released Clariel.  Further tales of the Old Kingom can also be found in short story collection Across the Wall.

Five Great Charters knit the land

together linked, hand in hand

One in the people who wear the crown

Two in the folk who keep the Dead down

Three and Five became stone and mortar

Four sees all in frozen water.


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