Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Review--Sabriel

This is a new post series I am going to be starting now that we are settled in our third new city and state of this year.

For my first book, I am going to do one that I consider an old friend. Sabriel by Garth Nix contains one of the most novel magic systems I've ever come across. Add that to one of the first independent female leads that I can recall reading, and it becomes pretty clear why it's one of my favorites.

Sabriel is the daughter of the Abhorsen, of whom her father is the last of a clan of magic users who specialize in necromancy to the purpose of laying Dead back to rest.

There are two basic divisions to the magic system: Free Magic and the Charter. At the simplest, the Charter is a language used to mold and control Free Magic into "safe" or useful spells. Further their is a division of Life and Death, with each being an actual place. Once someone or something dies, its spirit passes into Death, and from there through nine Gates. Each makes it more difficult to return to Life as you pass it, and once you pass the Ninth, that is referred to as the "final Death." As Death is such a major focus, it should come as no surprise that Necromancers are a not-uncommon type of mage. All Necromancers in this world are recognizable by the bell bandoliers  they wear, containing seven bells. Mages who specialize in the Charter are known as "Charter Mages" and those who use pure Free Magic are "Free Magic Sorcerers."

The bells:

  • Rannat he first, the smallest bell. Ranna the sleepbringer, the sweet, low sound that brings silence in its wake.
  • Mosraelthe second, a harsh, rowdy bell, the waker. The bell whose sound is a seesaw, throwing the ringer further into Death, as it brings the listener into Life.
  • Kibeththe walker, a bell of several sounds, a difficult and contrary bell. It can give freedom of movement to one of the Dead, or walk them through the next gate.
  • Dyrim a musical bell, of clear and pretty tone. Dyrim can return the voice that the Dead have so often lost, but Dyrim can also still a tongue that moves too freely.
  • Belgaeranother tricksome bell that seeks to ring of its own accord. The thinking bell, the bell most necromancers scorn to use. It can restore independent thought, memory and all the patterns of a living person, or slipping in a careless hand, erase them.
  • Saraneth the deepest, lowest bell. The sound of strength, the binder, the bell that shackles the Dead to the wielder's will
  • Astarael, the Sorrowful. The banisher, the final bell. Properly rung, it casts everyone who hears it far into Death. Everyone, including the ringer.

The plot is a fairly straightforward, though as an inverted Damsel in Distress to Badass in Distress, as it is actually Sabriel's Father who is in need of rescue. (Links go through to TVTropes. You have been warned.) This drives home the fact that the Abhorsens, while tending to be awesome, are also fallible humans.

I quoted the information about the bells from the Old Kingdom. This is a site operated by Nix himself that has much more information as well as excerpts from the novels.

Happy Reading!

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