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Sabriel by Garth Nix Yip Yak Book Review

Zombies are everywhere. Zombies in your sci-fi, zombies in your fantasy, even zombies in your Jane Austen. Zombies are overdone, but I want to recommend an older book (published in 1995) about the undead that has a unique twist I haven’t seen anywhere else. The protagonist, Sabriel, is known as the Abhorson and possesses powers of necromancy. Unlike other necromancers who raise the dead, Sabriel's task is to lay the walking dead to rest and send them back to the grave where they belong.

This premise creates a unique world enriched by another fun concept. Two countries are divided by a wall. To the south of the wall, technology such as electricity, cars, and guns exist without magic or the undead, but to the north, the opposite is true. In the Old Kingdom magic is everywhere, including necromancy, but modern technology doesn't function. Near the wall, an interesting phenomenon occurs—the magic and technology in the area begin to lose their potency. In this unique space, the boundaries between the two worlds blend and blur, creating intriguing scenes. For example, modern soldiers find their guns so unreliable they replace them with spears and patrol the wall, guarding against undead creatures that might attempt to breach it.

This fascinating world is used to tell a coming-of-age story. Sabriel’s father, the former Abhorson, finds himself trapped in the place between life and death, and Sabriel must take on the role of Abhorson to save him and the Old Kingdom from a dark and murderous creature of death called Kerrigor. Sabriel longs for help and guidance from her father and struggles with self-doubt without it. There are good portions of the book where she has to go it alone. Even when she comes across a sarcastic free-magic cat (a kind of demon) who is bound to serve the Abhorsons from generation to generation, she learns he’s not exactly safe or trustworthy. Then she encounters another character who has been suspended from death for over 200 years, magically transformed into a carving of wood. His name is Touchstone, which is a fool's name, and he’s riddled with self-doubt issues of his own. It takes some time before he becomes truly helpful.

This story is perfect for those who enjoy fantasy with undead creatures. It’s also great for people who enjoy coming-of-age stories, especially for teen girls, although it should appeal to a wider audience of fantasy readers who can handle somewhat darker subject matter. I personally enjoyed it enough to read it three times.

Note: "Sabriel" is the first book in the "Old Kingdom" series, but it works as a standalone, and I think it’s the best in the series. I didn’t get as much enjoyment out of the sequels, which I may or may not review later.