Garth Nix: The Old Kingdom Trilogy

The rabbit had been run over minutes before. Its pink eyes were glazed and blood stained its clean white fur. Unnaturally clean fur, for it had just escaped from a bath. It still smelt faintly of lavender water.

Why I read them:

I fell in love with Sabriel by Garth Nix near a decade ago. The world of the Old Kingdom is much more lush and dark than most young adult settings, and Nix’s winds blow cold and his dark is filled with danger and rot. There is a poetic flow to Sabriel and it has always seemed perfectly balanced for me: a coming-of-age story in a fantasy world, but with a breathless sense of real danger.

I try not to have a large book collection, because I seem to move almost every year and I know too many fellow book lovers whose homes have been utterly (and beautifully, but UTTERLY) taken hostage by their books. But when I find myself returning to a book again and again, and grumbling at the library for not having it NOW, because I need it NOW, I buy it. I now own Sabriel, and I could not be happier, because I know in a couple of years I will want back into its moody passages.

I will note that I did not buy the two following books in the trilogy, even though I probably should have. Sabriel is a complete novel in its own right and delivers the emotional pay-out for me on every front. Book two (Lireal) and book three (Abhorsen) are two parts of one story, and although filled with the best teenage angst, it misses some of the emotional payoff of the original.

So I read them this time because I needed that poetic winter.

Why it is Glorious:

Sabriel wanders through the world her father has protected her from, learning the art of necromancy and her job of putting the woken dead back to rest, and trying to find out if she has come into her birthright because her father is dead or if he might still be out there, trapped and calling to her. I adore coming of age stories, with a subtle thread of romance, but what makes Nix’s books a double wonder is the eponymous character and his writing.

Sabriel is a capable young woman who is stepping into the job which she has been prepared for, feeling a mixture of confidence and trepidation. The usual trope of a hero or heroine thrust into an adventure beyond their wild imagination is gone. There is something wonderful about watching a character who is competent, who knows it, and yet still has to balance the art of “figuring things out”. So. Good.

But still, it is the lovely softly poetic prose of a blighted land in winter which gets me every time.

Why world building is Important:

The world that Sabriel must face is spilt between the old and the new, with the new world being not so very different from our own 1940s and the Old Kingdom rife with magic and walking dead and issues. Technology fails in the towns along the wall when the wind blows over the wall from the Old Kingdom, and it is all painted with a subtle brush and without any clunky exposition to explain how this could all possibly work. The smash up of the two, while still being obviously NOT our time and place, works perfectly. The light touch makes the Old Kingdom seem all the more real. Nix makes it clear that the rest of the world continues along at a rapid modern pace, and it is unusual to find a book that so effectively tells its story while making the reader aware that beyond the edges of this story and these people are events and characters unseen whose actions will change the world without ever appearing on the page.

I read this book mostly before bed (and after bedtime).

I read this book mostly before bed (and after bedtime).

How covers change over Time:

Just take a look at what the cover was when I first read these novels: sabriel (1)

This one is much more demonstrative of the poetic moodyness of the novel, unlike the new version which is a burning symbol which looks just like the Hunger Games cover. Which, you know, may be deliberate. Fashion people, fashion. No wonder we’re told not to judge books by their covers, the covers change ALL THE TIME.


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