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Sabriel is the daughter of the Mage Abhorsen. Ever since she was a tiny child, she has lived outside the Wall of the Old Kingdom--far away from the uncontrolled power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won't stay dead.

But now, her father is missing and Sabriel is called upon to cross into the world to find him. Leaving the safety of the school she has known as home, Sabriel embarks upon a quest fraught with supernatural dangers, with companions she is unsure of--for nothing is as it seems within the boundary of the Old Kingdom. There, she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life, and comes face to face with her hidden destiny.

367 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1995

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About the author

Garth Nix

217 books13.8k followers
Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia, to the sound of the Salvation Army band outside playing 'Hail the Conquering Hero Comes' or possibly 'Roll Out the Barrel'. Garth left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra (the federal capital) and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin with a boot full of books and a Silver-Reed typewriter.

Despite a wheel literally falling off the Austin, Garth survived to return to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After finishing his degree in 1986 he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher's sales representative, and editor. Along the way he was also a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve, serving in an Assault Pioneer platoon for four years. Garth left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, till he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002 Garth went back to dedicated writer again, despite his belief that full-time writing explains the strange behaviour of many authors.

He now lives in Sydney with his wife, two sons and lots of books.

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5 stars
93,453 (45%)
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3 stars
31,385 (15%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 9,423 reviews
Profile Image for Kat Kennedy.
475 reviews16.3k followers
June 24, 2010
I picked this book up from the library and noticed stickers on the book declaring that it was part of a reading challenge here in NSW for grades 7-8.

"This book is acceptable to read for 12-13 year olds? Fuck me, can we turn around and go back to the library?" I asked my husband.

He shook his head and smiled at me. "Just try it. You never know."

"It's for twelve-to-thirteen year olds! No sex! No swearing! Minimum violence! I don't fucking think so!"

In the end, we brought it home and I sulked the whole way. However yesterday I opened it up and thought I'd actually give it a try and I'm really glad it did.

It actually managed to have more romance in it than Darkfever did, and that bloody book has NAKED people on the front cover, for crying out loud!

I thought this was going to be a story about a young girl on a magical adventure with a sword and a bad hair-do. But it turns out it's about an eighteen year old woman with dark, deadly skills being chased and hunted by a terrible and deadly enemy.

Sabriel has a good, clear head on her shoulder. She's smart, she's strong, she's a well-balanced and interesting character. The characters in Sabriel are all interesting and capturing in their way. Mogget was just pure win. He cracked me up. Touchstone was annoying at first but quickly won me over.

The world is interesting and complex, filled with enough creepy things that go bump in the night to really freak me out.

That's the best thing about this book. It's not TRYING to be a children's book. The rising action, climax and VERY short denouement had me on the edge of my seat. I was actually on the edge of my seat throughout most of the book.

In some parts it's really freaky and quite scary, in other parts it's sad.

This is the second male author I've come across lately that has written female characters BETTER than the women have been writing them lately. You can't even compare Sabriel to a character like Bella. Unless you were to really dumb it down into this: Bella - sucks, Sabriel - awesome beyond all belief.

Give this book a go. It was fun, scary, action packed and I absolutely can't wait to read the sequels!
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews157k followers
December 9, 2020
3.5 stars
Death and what came after death was no great mystery to Sabriel. She just wished it was.
Sabriel and her father have a very unique brand of magic. They can communicate with the dead and the damned from the Old Kingdom.

Only they can confront such creatures and send them back to the gates of death.

Then, during the first semester of Sabriel's school, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing and Sabriel is unwittingly promoted to the Abhorson.
Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?
With the dead creeping ever closer to her friends and countrymen, Sabriel must go to find her father before it's too late and he transverses through one gate of death too many.
Do not tarry, do not stop, no matter what happens.
I've heard so many wonderful things about this one...that I...welll....I expected a little bit more...

I just never felt a connection to this book - the magic, the characters, the plot - all meh to me.

This book relies heavily on Charter Magic - which, from what I can tell, involves speaking certain words and following strict rules that are never fully explained to the audience.

The most frustrating part is that there's no build to the magic, it's just there.

It's kind of like if you jumped into the seventh Harry Potter book without the first few novels of magical background - it was frustratingly complex.

The other thing that really bugged me was the "love" interest.

Sabriel and the "love" interest were essentially acquaintances (or perhaps pals, if you want to stretch it) but all of a sudden, before the big battle, THIS happens:
"I love you," he whispered. "I hope you don't mind.
And I'm just sitting there like, what? When did this happen?

Between the magic mayhem and the bland-to-non-existent-love, I never formed an emotional connection to any of the main characters or the plot (other than Mogget - Mogget was the shining star in the clouded night).

It felt like I was being dragged on a journey rather than eagerly plunging into a new series.

Maybe I'll feel more connected in book 2? Anyone else feel the same?

Audiobook Comments
Read by Tim Curry - and honestly this audio did the book NO favors. It was SO frustrating to have all these really cool concepts and absolutely NO excitement from the narrator. No tone. No characterization - other than Mogget.

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
553 reviews60.5k followers
February 25, 2023
Adding this to my "would have loved this as a kid but sadly I'm not one anymore" list.

Will donate my copy to a small little library so it will find a good home!
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,535 reviews9,953 followers
August 22, 2019
UPDATE: $1.99 Kindle US 8/22/19

Tim Curry rocks the narration 😊💕

"Yes," said Abhorsen. "I am a necromancer, but not of the common kind. where others of the art raise the dead, I lay them back to rest. And those that will not rest, I bind-or try to. I am Abhorsen . . ."

He looked at the baby again, and added, almost with a note of surprise, "Father of Sabriel."

Oh, what a wonderful little book. I loved Sabriel so much. She was so tough and just got things done.

She received a message from her father and she knew things were not right. She wasn't sure if he was dying or what was happening at first. She received his sword and other things through a messenger. She was to be the next Abhorsen of sorts.

This message takes Sabriel on a journey to find her father and find and kill the evil that is happening across the land. It's a bit creepy at parts which is good =)

She has a sidekick named Mogget that she picks up at her fathers house. He's a cat and he talks and he is really something different. And he is also bound from being free.

Then they pick up one more person that Mogget names Touchstone and he was a guard to the Queen. There's a big story there but you can read it yourself.

They go on a journey to get away from the evil that is trying to kill Sabriel while trying to set things right. Sabriel has powers herself but she can only do so much.

The end of the story was pretty amaze balls. I look forward to the rest of the books =)

Happy Reading!

Mel ❤️

MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List

Profile Image for Veronica Roth.
Author 60 books460k followers
August 15, 2023
Have you read this series? If your answer is no, well, stop reading this and do that instead.

These books endure in my mind. I still remember the feeling of reading them for the first time, and getting lost in the world of them. I'm revisiting them now because I want to go there again. They're complex and engaging and Sabriel, sharp and capable, is one of my favorite characters...probably ever. And the magic system! (!!!)

I never thought a book could give me Feelings About Bells, either, but here we are. (Tag yourself, I'm Belgaer.)
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews33 followers
December 21, 2021
Sabriel (The Old Kingdom #1), Garth Nix

First published in 1995. It is the first in his Abhorsen (Old Kingdom) series, followed by Lirael, Abhorsen, and Goldenhand.

The novel is set in two neighboring fictional countries: To the South lies Ancelstierre, which has a technology level and society similar to that of early-20th century Australia, and to the North lies the Old Kingdom, where both Free magic and Charter Magic exist — a fact officially denied by the government of Ancelstierre and disbelieved by most of Ancelstierre's inhabitants.

A wall separates the two countries. Near the border some magic crosses the Wall, especially on days when the wind is blowing out of the Old Kingdom. Since the fall of the Royal Family, dangerous entities roam, ranging from the immortal to powerful sorcerers and Free Magic elemental's.

“Let this be my final lesson. Everyone and everything has a time to die.”

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه مارس سال2006میلادی

عنوان: سابریل - سه گانه پادشاهی کهن کتاب نخست؛ نویسنده: گارت نیکس؛ مترجم: پریا آریا (پریا تجلی پور)؛ تهران، متن گستران آریا، سال1383، در291ص، نقشه، شابک9648662002؛ موضوع داستانها نویسندگان استرالیا - سده21م

مترجم: شهلا انتظاریان؛ تهران، افق، سال1391، در580ص، شابک9789643698218؛

مترجم: پیمان اسماعیلیان؛ تهران، قدیانی، سال1393، در580ص، شابک9789645369734؛

اگر هدف از ساخت را بدانی، اسم معنی خواهد داشت

کتاب نخست، از چهارگانه ی «پادشاهی کهن»، اثر «گارت نیکس» را، چند بار خوانده ام؛ برای خوانشگر کشش بسیاری دارد؛ «سابریل»، دختر «ابهورسن»، به دور از کشور کهن، زندگی کرده، به دور از جادوی آزاد، و مردگانی که مرده نمیمانند، مدرسه اش را همانند خانه اش دوست میدارد، در کشور کهن دشمنی وجود دارد، که جان او، و مردمانش را تهدید میکند؛ به نقل از تایمز: «داستان سابریل مملو از شخصیتهای جالب، صحنه های جذاب و هیجان است، خواندن کتاب لذت محض است.»؛ پایان نقل

کتاب دوم سری: لیرائل (لیرایل)؛ کتاب سوم سری: ابهورسن؛ کتاب چهارم: کلاریل: ابهورسن گم شده؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 10/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 29/09/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
January 12, 2022
i read this entire story about sabriels journey and i honestly couldnt tell you one thing about her, other than shes a necromancer of a sort (which is a fact thats given in the synopsis).

this book does do a lot of things right - theres a fast moving plot with imaginative magic and has really accessible writing. so im shocked at how lacking the characters are. they are so flat, so devoid of any development that it made me really hard to care about them, connect to them. which in turn lead to me not caring about or connecting to the story as a whole.

again, a lot of other great things about this, which is why im rounding up, but the boring characters totally bummed me out.

2.5 stars
Profile Image for Lyndsey.
126 reviews3,188 followers
February 3, 2011
This book really should have been exciting but I actually would have had a much better time had I just blared Monster Mash from my stereo and danced around like a zombie with chicken skin pasted to my face.

Jedi knight of the living dead!

I feel like this was probably really cool in the 90's and if I had read it then, as my pre-Harry Potter 10 year old self. I probably would have loved it. But now, my brain has descended into different forms of oblivion and I laugh voraciously at danger.


Ah shiznit - I just used a Disney movie to demonstrate how "grown up" I am. Not to mention, I said shiznit.

I'm going to give you my (bored face) half-hearted summary because the story is way to convoluted to go into much depth without lulling myself into a coma.

Sabriel is told from the third person perspective of a young girl, named Sabriel (what a co-inky-dink), a necromancer whose father disappears into the realm of the dead. She tasks herself with going to retrieve him because she believes he's still alive. Blah, blah. Monster, monster. Magic, magic.

Our heroine, Sabriel, who I probably would have thought was the kiss-ass queen of kick-ass when i was younger, seems to know exactly what to do all the time without any internal dialogue, insight, or even advice. Not to mention - training! How did she know all this stuff? Because she was destined to become the Abhorsen? Maybe that would have worked for me when I was young, naive and believed that I was going to marry Han Solo. But now, I need to see the character work and earn the right to their abilities. I need to see them struggle and angst over it like young Harry.

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The overall tone of the book was chilling. And I think if I was younger, I would have been thrilled and frightened during this book but now it just didn't phase me. I wasn't even all that interested. I just felt kinda 'meh' about the whole thing.

Action scenes abound in the book; however, every single one felt completely contrived and many were repetitive. Sabriel meandered about with unclear goals and even more unclear talents. It wasn't easy to distinguish her allies from her enemies but I didn't get the impression that this was done out of poetic symbolism, merely from indistinct plotlines and story progression. I wasn't captivated by much of anything in this book. Although, I did like the cat, Mogget.

Oh, and I'm saying its slow even though I was listening to it in audio. Usually I can tolerate slower books in audio form but this one really left a lot to be desired.

The narrator was very good at distinct voices for each character but some of them, namely the monsters, were unbearable, with gasping and hissing and gurgling. He also has a teensy bit of a pretentious tone, which is understandable since he is the illustrious Tim Curry of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But sometimes, it became annoying.

The writing was good. The world-building was good. The narration was good but I never felt invested. I wasn't blown away or engaged in the story or characters. I was majorly bored. And it was loooooong.

The scale of the book is huge, though. If you love sweeping epic fantasies that offer destiny as a solution to every problem with nothing to back it up (which, let's face it, is alot of fantasy), then you'd probably love this.

I really do think that this would be great for a younger audience. I think it was good, just absolutely wrong for me at this age. And if I'm being completely honest, I would much rather do the Monster Mash 100 times than go through this again.

Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
January 14, 2018
Very good YA fantasy! The adventures of Sabriel, an innocent young woman, and her run-ins with various types of dead, undead, once dead, sorta dead and should-be-dead people and creatures. Luckily for almost everyone concerned (except the forces of evil and the dead ones they control), Sabriel is by heritage and training a necromancer, with a fair amount of power over death. Unluckily, some of these once-dead and should-be-dead creatures have apparently killed Sabriel's father, the necromancer-in-chief or "Abhorsen," and are in the process of taking over the kingdom. It's up to Sabriel and her companions, a talking cat with mysterious powers and a once-sorta-dead (for 200 years) guy, to try to turn things around.


This is a well-written and enjoyable fantasy, occasionally a little on the grim and gruesome side, but still within the bounds of what I'd consider YA appropriate, at least for teens who aren't too sensitive. Garth Nix creates an intriguing and imaginative fantasy world.

This is also the first book in a series, but it doesn't leave you hanging off the edge of the virtual cliff. It works quite well as a stand-alone read. I haven't gotten around to reading the rest of the series, but they're on my "probably, sometime" mental list.

Content notes: Frequent battles with deadly creatures who sometimes resemble zombies. Some good characters die. The sexual content is very mild, but there's a scene where a character overhears lovemaking in the next room, and a somewhat *ahem* detailed description of a naked statue.
October 1, 2021
Reread completed on September 17th via Audiobook.

I just wanted to post a quick review of my thoughts on the reread.

This book definitely stands up to my memory. What I am so glad about is that I forgot many of the plot twists, so it was like reading it again for the first time. I love when horror/scary elements are thrown in with fantasy. There are some very chilling moments in the book and the villain is really really bad.

I love the story of a young woman coming into her own and realizing what she is capable of. I do wish that more of the book showed Sabriel interacting with her father, however. I think there are some really important themes about family legacy and coming out of the shadow of one's parents and the expectations that go along with that. Sometimes it's not about running away from it, but embracing it and making it your own.

The magic was interesting and the world-building was intricate in how magic was integrated into every aspect of the story. The storyline shows the consequences of when the magic goes bad as well and the corruption that can result when a magic wielder is evil.

I'm not a big zombie fan, but it was well done in this book. Zombies just creep me out and it's so visceral to me and frightening to think about undead humans wandering around getting into mischief, even if they aren't explicitly trying to eat brains. However, I did like how the necromancer trope is turned around with the concept of the Abhorsen.

The narrator was good, and he definitely made the villain's part very scary. I am so glad my library had this on audiobook. I believe that they have the other two books, which I plan to integrate into my reading.

I would still give it five stars, even though I wish Sabriel had more moments with her father. I recommend this book.

This book makes me want to devour more books, and I'm glad that I am getting to the point where I can actually read and be immersed in a book again after what feels like way too long.

I shall write a wee bit about my thoughts on this book as I read, for I do not trust my foggy brain to keep up with them if I wait until the last minute.

*I like the juxtaposition of 20th Century (early) Ancelstierre with a medieval-esque world of the Old Kingdom. It threw me for a loop at first, how the prologue was very medieval (pre-Industrial), and the first chapter was modernesque. I was thinking, are they immortal or something? But further reading clears that up.

*I don't read as much pure fantasy (which I am working on changing), but this magic system stands out to me. The Charter concept. The magic system is based on sketching out these symbols that have a magical power behind them. They can also be whistled or sung, if bells are not available.

*There are some genuinely creepy elements that make this story borderline horrific, if not dark fantasy in tone. There were moments that held me breathless, my stomach tight with dread. I like the manner in which Nix incorporates zombies. Zombies are not a favorite horror element of mine. But this type of zombie is scary, because the emphasis is on the dark spiritual (if you will) aspects. The ability of dark Charter mages to command spirits to come back from the realms of the Dead, binding them in service. Dark stuff. The loss of free will is a big sticking point with me. Nix succeeds in unnerving me in a deeper way, and doesn't focus on the gory, squeamish aspects of zombies that repel rather than cause the fear response.

*The author's ability to describe and propel the narrative without being too dense. I like a more natural, simplistic form of prose when I'm reading. That is what has kept me from starting some of the magic fantasy sagas, thus far.

*The welcome elements of subtle humor. Mogget is a spirit in the form of a cat. He could not be more feline in personality. I love this scene:

Mogget had no time for such introspection, mourning or pangs of responsibility. He left her watching, blank-eyed, for no more than minute, before padding forward and delicately inserting his claws in Sabriel's slippered foot..

That's exactly what one of my cats would do to get my attention. Haha.

So far, I'm enjoying this read. I didn't even turn on my computer and get on Goodreads last night. I just read my book. And I turned off the tv to better concentrate.

That's it for now...

Update: 4/25/10

Okay, I finished this book after 1am this morning. I loved it. It was intense, it was moving, it was written in a manner that allowed the story to flow, but with a richness of detail that made it visually stunning as I read. The magic was fascinating. Intricate, but written so that the reader doesn't feel clueless.

I absolutely loved Sabriel. She's a strong girl. She went through such a harrowing experience. I mean, there are some truly dark moments in this story. Her father must have been so proud of her. I know I was.

Although the book doesn't really show Sabriel with her father, (the present Abhorsen (a person who sends the restless dead back where they belong), all that much, I loved the relationship between the two. A rich father-daughter relationship always appeals in a story, and I think readers of a similar mind will enjoy this part of the book.

For many years, I didn't read fantasy. I am sad about that, and resolved to make up for lost time. Urban fantasy and paranormal romance rekindled my childhood love of this genre. This book has truly lit me on fire to read more fantasy. I was drawn to the heroism, but also the ambiguity of this world, where the power of magic has the power to corrupt those who are not strong of mind and spirit. I'm drawn to a story where the heroine is on a journey that tests her spirit, and she comes out of it a stronger, wiser person. Sabriel definitely fits the bill for that kind of story.

Although Sabriel is the major focus of this story, I felt that Mogget and Touchstone were strong characters that added to the texture of this story. The light romantic elements between Sabriel and Touchstone were more than welcome.

Sabriel was a vivid, captivating, often scary introduction to the Abhorsen series, and my first read by Garth Nix. It will not be my last.
Profile Image for Nicole.
750 reviews1,935 followers
February 18, 2021
Sabriel was probably the oldest (numbering wise) fantasy sitting on my Goodreads shelf. When I first came across it, I was in one of those weird periods where I only liked to read about female protagonists... yeah, don’t ask. And from the cover, I’ve assumed that Sabriel is a boy.. And then it just wasn’t the right time and it sat there until I mentioned to my friend that I want to read it this year. We ended up buddy reading it last week and we shared the same opinion basically. Both of us have read a lot of fantasy so this book simply wasn’t on the same level. But it had lots of potential. I was ready to love it. I was ready to give it 5 stars and it’s one of the rare cases where my I expect to love the book but don’t. And I would’ve… if I read it 6 years ago when I still new to this genre.

I understand why many who grew up reading Sabriel enjoyed it because it is for its time but now? Not so much anymore. This genre has evolved very much since 1995.

This book tells the story of Sabriel, the daughter of Abhorson. Her father sent her their necromancing kit basically meaning he was either dead or between life and death. Sabriel then leaves schools hoping to her father. What follows is her adventure as the new Abhorson (turns out this is a title) against one of the evil greater dead.

This was a nice book that can be read as a standalone because Lirael, the sequel, is a story about different characters. Which I will read. One day.

Okay now to the story itself, my main was the whole Charter thing was underdeveloped. I couldn’t understand if he’s a god or just a magic entity or what? It was almost like a religion. Almost. We discovered more about the world and the Old Kingdom thankfully in the second part of the book but I wanted more understanding about the magic and how it works. Some background about Charter Mages or anything.

The romance was very abrupt and there was no buildup whatsoever beyond a few passing words. Again, that was acceptable maybe in the 90s but not by today’s standards. Also, Touchstone? Seriously? What the heck is this name? I would’ve liked this book much better if the chemistry between Sabriel and Touchstone was better developed.

The writing was decent of course, I don’t think anything back then with not a good writing would’ve saw light. But I found myself getting distracted all the time and making little to no progress. I kept checking my social media instead of reading because I simply wasn’t feeling it. I mean the characters and the story were nice and interesting but something about the writing didn’t click with me. I wasn’t in a reading slump (if anything I’m on a roll) so the issue wasn’t “me”.

I wanted to love Sabriel so much that I feel bad about writing these things. I’m even annoyed at myself for not liking it more. I really wish I read this one when I first came across it but I also believe great books should be enjoyed regardless of how old you are when you read them. Don’t get me wrong I still enjoyed this book and I want this half star so bad I’m ready to organize a petition to demand Goodreads a half star rating already. The characters were likable and Sabriel was nice to read about. But at the same time, I would be unfair to the other fantasies that I’ve rated 4 stars because I liked them better. Yes we should sign a petition for the damn half star.
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
720 reviews1,116 followers
November 9, 2017
“Then Sabriel hears it - the massed grinding of Dead joints, no longer joined by gristle; the padding of Dead feet, bones like hobtails clicking through necrotic flesh.”

Now, I’ll admit a book involving the dead (or zombies if you will) wouldn’t be a normal pick for me. Despite this, Sabriel kept my attention and there was plenty of magic and world building to hook me in!

Sabriel’s father is the Abhorsen - a necromancer with a difference! He returns the dead to their resting place, sends creatures that should be dead into death and generally protects the living from the dead!
When her father goes missing Sabriel must leave her boarding school, travel over the wall into the Old Kingdom and face all sorts of enemies (mainly dead or half dead or bodies taken over by dead spirits- you get the idea.)

With delightful descriptions such as this:
“like an apple corer punching the Dead spirit out of the rotting corpse.”

The main magic system is that of Charter Magic - the use of symbols to create spells, and anyone who is a Charter Mage will have a symbol on their forehead to indicate this. It was a fantastic and creative system.
The other characters were great - Mogget the talking yet mysterious cat and Touchstone - the poor chap who has been trapped for 200 years and has just been rescued.

I really enjoyed this, it was a quick read and though parts of the magic system were a bit tough to figure out I thought it was a great concept and I’ve never read anything else like it!

“Let this be my final lesson. Everyone and everything has a time to die.”
Profile Image for Merna .
110 reviews388 followers
February 23, 2017
“Let this be my final lesson. Everyone and everything has a time to die.”

I really wish I had liked Sabriel more than I actually did. It had a decent idea, however, as I kept reading I continuously kept thinking about events in my life or my plans for the next day. My mind kept drifting off because I was purely so bored. I believe merely saying a book is boring isn’t a convincing or a valid reason to conclude that the book wasn’t good.

Have you ever read a book where endless things are happening after another, but you feel as if barely anything is occurring, because the action is always so similar to the previous ones that ensued in the book and it feels overused?

The plot essentially went like this:
Something bad happens
Sabriel defeats it
Something bad happens
Sabriel escapes
Something bad happens
Sabriel escapes
Something bad happens
Sabriel Defeats it

Anyway, I thought the concept for the story was intriguing at first.

The story is set in two fictional countries. To the south lies Ancelstierre where technology and society is comparable to the 20th century England, and to the north lies the Old Kingdom where magic and spirits wander the land.

In the Old Kingdom there is always a sorcerer with the title Abhorsen who puts the dead (spirits) to rest. The dead are raised by Necromancers or black magicians, who roam the Old Kingdom. Basically an Abhorsen is a Necromancer themselves, only they do the opposite. Sabriel is an Abhorsen who lives in Ancelstierre and her dad lives in the Old Kingdom. She sets on a journey to the Old Kingdom after her father’s sudden disappearance.

However, quarter way through the book:

Sabriel was a likable female character, so I have to give the male author some applause for writing believable female character. On the other hand, I felt no connection with Sabriel since her emotions where rarely expressed, instead there was a massive amount of description about many other things that caused me to yawn endlessly. Her love interest is - well, not interesting. He was flat and dull.

I feel as if I’m betraying the fantasy genre for not liking this as much as I probably should. I feel an obligation to like fantasy books that have original concepts, considering fantasy is one of my favourite genres.

Oh well, I still praise the idea of the story very much and I think that solely earns 3 stars, but I didn't find it to be an entertaining or engaging read for it to earn anymore than that.
Profile Image for Heather Turner.
86 reviews8 followers
July 10, 2016
Possibly one of the greatest fantasy adventures of our times, Garth Nix's first novel is a lush, magical, dark-witty adventure about a young woman's battle with the hideous Dead.

The story starts with a flashback in which a special necromancer named Abhorsen saves his baby daughter Sabriel from a creature called Kerrigor, in the spiritual river of death. Many years later, at an English-esque boarding school, Sabriel must take up her father's magical sword and bells and try to find out what has happened to him. To do so, she must leave her relatively high-tech home for the Old Kingdom, where magic rules and evil things are stalking her.

Along the way, she is accompanied by the guard Touchstone and the menacing/funny cat-spirit Mogget. They must try to defeat the evil Kerrigor, who wants to blast the Charter which keeps all things from descending into evil.

Sabriel is the best fantasy hero I've read about since Lord of the Rings. Too many fantasy heroines are either damsels or warrior women--Sabriel is neither. She acts and thinks precisely like a young woman in her position. Strong, intriguing, and no slack with a sword in a bad situation, she is a wonderful role model.

Touchstone is a darling, but Mogget really is unique. Is he evil? Good? Or some peculiar mix? This ancient spirit forced to live as a cat is enslaved to the Abhorsen family for the good of everyone (we get a glimpse of how dangerous he is). The world that Garth Nix dreamed up, a mixture of Tolkien and WW2 England, is unparalleled in the fantasy genre. It's populated by animated ghouls, ghastly Mordicants, the almost-human sendings, Charter ghosts, the inhabitants of the river of Death, where only Abhorsens go, and so on...

His writing style is lush and hypnotic--you can actually see the events unfolding in front of your eyes, in this wintry but inviting world.
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,743 reviews5,283 followers
August 3, 2018
#1 Sabriel ★★★☆☆
#2 Lirael ???
#3 Abhorsen ???
#4 Clariel ???
#5 Goldenhand ???

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.

I first read Sabriel as a preteen, and while I know I loved it – I must have, as I asked my parents to buy me the second book in the series, too – I never continued the series, nor did I remember any of the details whatsoever. In recent years, I met so many people who cherish this series that I just knew I had to reread the first book, and I’m so glad that I did. While this wasn’t a perfect read for me by any means, it set the stage for what I genuinely believe is going to be an incredible series.

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”

→ necromancy ←
I’m such a sucker for necromancy books in general, and the way the world of the Dead and the Abhorsens is created in this book is wonderful, but not as fleshed out as I hoped it would be. I adored every single sentence about the world of the Dead, the bells, the magic, and the ways in which Abhorsens (Sabriel’s family of necromancers) interact with all of the above, but it was never quite enough. Had I gotten an extra 50-100 pages of pure, unadulterated world-building, I believe this would have been a 4-star read for me, if not better.

That said, the setup we do get is magnificent: the act of necromancy is portrayed in such a fascinating and risky way, and the Dead themselves are downright creepy. These aren’t wispy ghosts and quiet whispers in shadowy halls; these are looming, vicious creatures, on a mission to regain their status among the living, no matter the cost.

Death and what came after death was no great mystery to Sabriel. She just wished it was.

→ Sabriel ←
The second double-edged sword in this book was Sabriel’s character, who I wanted so badly to love – and I did love, by the end – but I had such a hard time connecting to her! She feels very ingenuine for the first 2/3 or so of the book. Any time she feels a particularly strong emotion, it’s described to us, but in a way that feels too clinical and detached to relate to. I think this was definitely just a sign of inexperienced writing, because even by the end of the book, I was able to connect with her more solidly, and I hear that this particular writing issue is one that is resolved in the other books in this series.

Even without feeling like Sabriel is a three-dimensional, complex character, I still soundly enjoyed who she had the potential to be. She’s tough, intelligent, and warm, without an evil bone in her body. I think the biggest reason her lack of development frustrated me was simply because, with better writing, I could have seen Sabriel becoming one of my absolute favorite heroines (and, in fact, I do remember adoring her as a child).

“I love you,” he whispered. “I hope you don’t mind.”

→ romance ←
Finally, the reason I just could not bring myself to give this book a higher rating: insta-love. Funny enough, it was more of an issue with the love interest than it was with Sabriel (which, at the very least, was a refreshing change from the trope of the female in an f/m relationship being the first to fall). I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that the quote I used at the heading of this section actually made me laugh out loud and roll my eyes a little bit. It’s not just that these two characters spend so little time together before confessing their love; it’s also a matter of the fact that they barely speak to one another throughout the entire book, as most of their limited time together is a tumultuous, stressful, and fairly quiet journey.

On the other hand, a fellow blogger recently gave me some interesting food for thought: insta-love can be used as a plot device, to depict how naïve the characters are, and that could easily be said for the pairing in Sabriel. If that was the author’s intentions, I can respect it, but I still don’t feel like it was the best route; in fact, I think my preference would’ve been for this book to be entire romance-free.

“You are the fifty-third Abhorsen, Sabriel. I have not taught you as well as I should – let this be my final lesson. Everyone and everything has a time to die.”

→ final thoughts ←
All in all, this book has a lot of flaws, but it’s got so much potential and such an interesting and unique storyline that I would ask you not to let this 3-star rating convince you for a moment that I didn’t enjoy it. On the contrary, I had a wonderful time rereading Sabriel, and I’ve already ordered myself a new copy of the second book so that I can see what else Garth Nix has in store for the series.

You can find this review and more on my blog, or you can follow me on twitter, bookstagram, or facebook!


First buddy read with Terry, my love!
Profile Image for Becca & The Books.
323 reviews6,821 followers
September 18, 2022
if you're a fan of old-school-feeling cost fantasy then you may enjoy this classic adventure story entering on necromancy and a young girl's journey to save her father.

Unfortunately for me, it was reminiscent of fantasy stories that I've previously read and not enjoyed such as The Tales of Earthsea by Ursula K. Leguin, Stardust by Neil Gaiman and The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett - all of which are very highly regarded fantasy stories, but have narrative structure and tone that I don't enjoy.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,065 reviews1,475 followers
April 17, 2020
Years before I was aware of the online bookish community, the YA genre was one I was never exposed to. I read primarily classics, fantasies, and thrillers for lighter relief. One day my auntie deposited a stack of books next to me and ordered to read them all. Some of the titles included were The Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, and the first two or three books in the Abhorsen series. There were others, that I have now forgotten, but these three series are ones I can vividly recall reading and returning to page one to reread again immediately after finishing them. I was hooked on the YA drug.

Despite some older fantasy series, penned in the same time as this one, not standing the test of age for me, I was delighted to find that returning to this series brought me the same amount of joy as it had previously.

Nix has constructed a fantasy world that echoes the one found in A Game of Thrones, despite perhaps a simpler version more easily accessible for younger readers. His protagonist, Sabriel, is one both fiercely independent and woefully vulnerable. The interaction between the two made her a character I immediately rooted for and empathised with. Her journey felt unique in its construction, despite following in the well-worn tread of the heroine’s journey to save the world from an imminent dark threat.

I look forward to continuing on and discovering what more delights this series has to offer me.
Profile Image for TS Chan.
719 reviews886 followers
February 11, 2018
Sabriel is a captivating and original tale of destiny.

Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?

I picked up this book because Brandon Sanderson recommended it in his review for Goldenhand, the 5th book in the Abhorsen series. He termed this as "one of the fundamental experiences that helped me shape my philosophy on magic systems and worldbuilding." With such an endorsement from my favourite author of all time, I cannot possibly pass over this book. And I am glad that I didn't.

As a novel categorised as young adult fantasy, Sabriel is a well-crafted tale with all the necessary elements which make fantasy so enjoyable, be it for the intended target audience or more mature readers. First of all, the Prologue hooked me right from the start. It quickly establishes the notion that the titular character, Sabriel, is going to be someone special together with a glimpse of this world's magic. The narrative then jumps ahead eighteen years where Sabriel was now in the final semester of her college studies when she discovered that her father, the Abhorsen, is in mortal danger and decided immediately to head into the Old Kingdom to rescue him.

Now, let's appreciate the worldbuilding a bit. The Old Kingdom is separated from the modern world by a Wall, which keeps the Dead who wouldn't stay dead away from Ancelstierre. And if you now start to think, "Hey wait a minute, isn't that similar to ASOIAF", I would like to point out that Sabriel was published a year before Game of Thrones.

The modern world, Ancelstierre, is akin to our early twentieth century where there is electricity, motor vehicles and tanks, guns and ammunition. And the magic of the Old Kingdom - both in the form of Free Magic and the Charter - gets weaker the farther away one is from the Wall which demarcates the boundary between both lands. What is unusual is how the Old Kingdom appears as a completely different world. Step through the gate in the Wall, and one experiences a time and reality warp of sorts, where for one moment one is in sunny and warm Ancelstierre and then the next, in a cold and wintry landscape. Even the stars are several degrees off in the night sky, and time passes asynchronously to Ancelstierre. Its name, the Old Kingdom, also alludes to the fact that with the existence of magic, modern technology had not taken hold in this land as it did just over the Wall.

I won't go into much detail and hence spoil the fun but I will mention that the two magic systems - Free Magic and the Charter - are somewhat anathema to each other. The exposition of these two branches of magic is deftly woven into the storytelling, which avoided the dreaded info-dump. There is an aspect of music in the magic of necromancy (i.e. bells) and the Charter that I found most intriguing and, for lack of a better word, cool.

Great worldbuilding and cool magic systems alone do not make a great fantasy book. Characters are the mortar to the bricks of good, solid storytelling. Sabriel is a great protagonist who acts her age, has her doubts, is not infallible and just feels authentic. In other words, she is not perfect, and the author does not try to make her so. Although she is quite special in her own right, the narrative does not focus on trying to hammer that fact into the reader's brains.


Without having much knowledge and experience required to survive the Old Kingdom in her quest to rescue her father, she has to rely on the assistance of an aloof cat, Mogget, and a young Charter Mage, Touchstone. There is always something about animal characters, whether they are capable of speech or not and this one does, that elevates the reading experience for me. In short, Mogget is superb.

If I have to pick an issue with this novel, it is the romance which felt like it came out of nowhere. Fortunately, this only appeared in small doses closer towards the end, where the book concluded most satisfactorily with an exciting page-turning climax.

For a fantasy book written before the new millennium, I take the view that it reads just as well if not better than some of its present peers - YA or otherwise. I look forward to continuing with the Abhorsen series and will recommend this to fantasy readers who are looking for well-written young female protagonists.

This review can also be found at Booknest
Profile Image for Madeline.
781 reviews47.2k followers
June 17, 2018
"Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?"

I’ve had a long-term project going for about five years now, where I try to hunt down and read all the YA adventure series that I was supposed to read when I was in middle school (instead, I spent those years re-reading the Prydain series, and also every single one of those Royal Diaries books – no regrets!). Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix, checks off another box on that list, although I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t even aware of these books until very recently. But I’m sure that they would have been right up thirteen-year-old Madeline’s alley – I can’t speak for the rest of the series, but Sabriel is sort of like a blend of Tamora Pierce and Lloyd Alexander, with a heavy dash of Goth elements. In short, a fun, coming-of-age adventure, featuring zombies!

The world of Sabriel reminded me a little of George RR Martin’s Westeros, because we have a country (here called Ancelstierre) that’s kept separate from the Old Kingdom – a land of magic and danger. Sabriel spent the first few years of her life in the Old Kingdom with her father, a necromancer known as “the Abhorsen”, but has lived in Ancelstierre for her entire adolescence. When Sabriel is eighteen, she receives a distress message from her father. He’s trapped somewhere in Death, and Sabriel has to use the skills she learned from him to travel back to the Old Kingdom and rescue him. Along for the ride are a cat that’s not a cat, and a man who was trapped as a wooden statue for two hundred years. Oh, and evil zombies who serve an undead demon are also tracking Sabriel.

As you can probably guess from the above description, there’s a lot of action and creepy elements in this book, as well as magic, sassy sidekicks, ghosts, and (my favorite) totally frank depictions of sexuality aimed at preteen audiences! (At one point, Sabriel considers all the implications of pursuing a sexual relationship with another character, and her mental list of Things to Deal With includes contraception! Hooray for you, Garth Nix!) Speaking of fantastic moments, I knew that Sabriel and I would get along as soon as Nix’s narration shared this tidbit with the readers: when Sabriel got her first period, she used her necromancer abilities to summon her mother’s ghost for advice. Which, frankly, why wouldn’t you?

Even though this is part of a multiple-book series, Sabriel doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, and it can easily be read as a standalone novel. However, if you’re like me, you’re going to want to continue with the series, if only to find out how Sabriel continues to explore her role as a necromancer, and what other adventures Nix has planned for his heroine.

(one more note: I listened to the audiobook version of this novel, which had two distinct advantages: first, I learned that Sabriel does not rhyme with “Gabriel”, like I assumed, but is pronounced “Sah-briel.” And second, the audiobook I found is narrated by Tim Curry. He’s not the best candidate for voicing an eighteen-year-old girl’s dialogue, but I didn’t even mind because his villain voices are on point. Voice like buttah, I’m telling you.
Profile Image for Judith Arvesu.
22 reviews10 followers
April 16, 2009
When an otherworldly visitor tells Sabriel that her father has been trapped in the world of the dead, she has no choice but to leave her student's life in Ancelstierre and venture into the Old Kingdom to save him. There, in her father's absence, she must take up the mantle of Abhorsen, a necromancer charged with making sure that the dead stay dead.

Although she does not believe herself to be up to the task, Sabriel must make the journey, with only a mysterious talking cat named Mogget, and a re-awakened amnesiac guardsman, Touchstone, by her side.

Garth Nix is easily my favorite YA fantasy author of the moment, and one of my favorite authors full stop. Sabriel made him popular and respected among fans of the genre, and I can see why.

It's a brilliant, fast-paced book that is quite impossible to put down. This means a lot coming from someone like me, with an average attention span of 20 pages or less. It has a solid plot, realistic characters, and a unique world built so seamlessly, it's entirely believable.

Garth Nix is a good world builder in that he lays down the foundation of a brand-new world and lets the "fantastic" details seep through not by long-winded info-dumps but by winding them so neatly through the narrative that you hardly notice what he's doing. The world and magic of the Old Kingdom is unlike many magic systems I've come across, and it's great how he never once spends more than two pages to explain things away. Of course, this means that a number of things are left unexplored but I suppose since there are two more books in the series, there's still time to explore them there.

His characters are also some of the most human I have ever come across. Sabriel and Touchstone are competent as heroine and hero, but are flawed enough to be interesting without ever falling into the "emo" or whiny and melodramatic pits that adolescent characters are wont to do in this genre. For all the strangeness of the world they live in, the characters are as real as can be, and the relationship between Sabriel and Touchstone develops with taste and subtlety.

Most admirable is how Sabriel is portrayed as a normal girl with normal concerns rather than either a weeping, confused damsel or an overly masculinized (is that a word?) warrior woman. Also, she doesn't dissolve into a spineless, sex-obsessed sap when presented with a boy, despite clearly having the usual anxieties and feelings in that regard. She proves to be a quick-witted heroine, and Garth Nix doesn't cheapen her character and throws her into some really awesome, breathtaking conflicts.

As a last note, although this is the first book of a trilogy, it's a solid story all on its own so you can pick it up with no worries as to whether you should complete the series or not.
Profile Image for nicklein.
401 reviews78 followers
October 28, 2016
Where was this book when I needed it?

5 stars!

Seriously, this book was GLORIOUS. If you want fast-paced, will-keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, action-packed book, this one is for you.

Mogget is hands down my favourite character in this book. He's so sassy and sarcastic and morbid and fluffy and I just love him!

“It sounds like a terribly brilliant plan to me,” muttered Mogget. “The genius of simplicity…”

The character development of Sabriel and Touchstone was brilliant especially Sabriel's. She's totally a different person by the end of this book. And Touchstone is so dreamy. Ay kennat.

I'm not so sure about the romance though. Don't get me wrong, you guys know I'm a sucker for romance and can ship almost every character with any living things but the romance here felt like a throwaway. It felt off. I don't know maybe it's just me. I still love our main couple though. I ship them with all my heart and wish them a fruitful relationship. Lmfao.

The world Nix created was so complex and stunning. His descriptions were so clear that you could picture the world so vividly in your head.

I am looking forward to read the next books in the series!
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,895 followers
September 2, 2019
This left me very unmoved throughout. I was initially somewhat intrigued by the original depiction of the realm of the Dead, and I’m always interested in an exploration of magic interacting with dead (and undead) creatures and beings. But I would hope that a story that has so much death in it would also have some sense of the impact of death on life, and on the living, and it barely scratched that surface for me.

The writing is competent, the dialogue mostly flows, but the plot just feels like one incident knocking into the next, ad nauseum, with very little urgency (beyond the artificial “we only have ten minutes to do the thing we need to do!” sort of urgency) and no sense of organically connected themes and motivations.

I understand that this book, when it was released, represented a welcome change in fantasy literature in that it features a capable, courageous, intelligent young woman as its protagonist, and I can certainly appreciate and applaud that fact. But she deserves a much richer story than what she’s given here. It was such a middle of the road reading experience for me that I won’t be continuing the series.
Shelved as 'wishlist'
July 31, 2021
Coming up next in my YA reread challenge. I actually have only read the first book and while cleaning out my hoard, I found out that I own the first three books in the series, plus the bonus collection of short stories, ACROSS THE WALL.

Have any of you read this book? I barely remember it at all, but I know I loved it.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
1,015 reviews529 followers
March 17, 2018
Sabriel is one hell of a kick ass character. No whinging, no feeling sorry for herself - she gets shit done! Anyone who loves ya fiction, magic and dystopian universes definitely needs to give this book a try!!
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,898 reviews378 followers
June 21, 2017
Tim Curry narration!!!!! OMG! Imma gonna pee my pants!

So far a strong 3.5 storyline 5 Tim Curry
His voice for the cantankerous cat spirit is superb!
This was quite engaging, especially the last couple of chapters. I can see why it instantly became a classic YA fantasy series.
Sabriel searches for her father, the Abhorsen, a sort of necromancer, who is lost in the land of the dead. Along the way she meets a spirit under the control of the Abhorsens for about fourteen centuries and a sailor nicknamed Touchstone. Constant adventures follow. The bad thing about audio books is I never know how to spell the special words in a fantasy novel. There is a villain who wishes to kill all of the Abhorsens and take control of the kingdom that the trio constantly battles. His breath is described as having "the scent of a thousand abattoirs." I will finish this series-all Tim Curry
Bahahaha Read#2- I totally forgot how directions are given in this series. I crack up every time! This repeat read has fleshed out the humanity of Sabriel. She falls in love. I didn't really focus on her heart. It breaks on her adventure-for her father, for her role she must assume.

2017 Reading Challenge: first in a series
Summer Fantasy Fest read #21
Profile Image for Mara.
166 reviews219 followers
June 11, 2015
Wickedly amazing world building but sadly too little character portrayal, if that's even a thing? It was too adventure-driven for my taste and while the setting immediately fascinated me, I never felt like I knew the characters and thus could never rly connect with them.
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