This was quite hard. I like a lot of series and Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness was a very close contender but in the end, I've returned to the Old Kingdom more over the years. Below are my thoughts on Sabriel, the first in the series, first written for Hot Key Books to celebrate the forthcoming release of Clariel (published this October) - a long awaited prequel. You can find out more about the Old Kingdom, Garth Nix and his characters at Hot Key's Old Kingdom website, here.
Many years ago, I was headed to a remote part of Scotland for a romantic, wintery get-a-way with a boyfriend. As the weather was forecast to be terrible, I thought I should take a few books. Just previously, I had been loaned three fantasy books by a close friend: Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen by Garth Nix. On a dark and stormy night, in front of a roaring fire, I picked up Sabriel. And my boyfriend didn’t speak to me for a week. I quickly discovered, as will you, that I couldn’t put it down. Nor Lirael. Nor Abhorsen.
They are, in short compellingly original and completely unforgettable. Moving between the 1940′s-esq New Kingdom of the south and the wildly different Old Kingdom of the north, Garth Nix has created a world that is unique. Separated by a heavily guarded wall, these two lands co-exist largely in a state of ignorance bar the family of Sabriel. A young woman, Sabriel is the last in the line of the Abhorsens, necromancers who walk the line between life and death sending some souls forward, through the rivers and gates of the afterlife while preventing many more from returning, maintaining a balance necessary for the survival of both kingdoms. Yet all is not well, with a great evil lurking just under the tide line, and Sabriel finds herself at the forefront of a burgeoning war that will span generations.
As Sabriel travels the hinterland between life and death, Nix trades on both new and old mythology to create a frightening yet alluring world. Half dead things roam a land held together by a corrupted yet beautiful magic; women see the future from a distant glacier and a centuries old hero hangs frozen and forgotten on the bow of a boat. Creatures of great power (and not a little menace) masquerade as small, acerbic cats, mysterious spheres emanate a terrible danger and the world south of the Wall continues in an Enid Blyton-like dance of denial and creeping fog. It is really quite something.
For lovers of good fantasy, the Old Kingdom trilogy is an absolute must and for those who aren’t too sure about myth and magic, well, it is so much more than the sum of its parts. At heart a story identity, the value of family and the importance of never forgetting the past regardless of the horrors it may hold, this trilogy is one that I have returned to again and again and enjoyed more each time. So pick up Sabriel, and have the other two sitting right next to you because you won’t want to stop once you have started – just make sure you don’t have company, they won’t thank you for it.