Thursday, June 19, 2014
Sabriel by Garth Nix
The book's been mentioned here before, and it's not exactly a new title, but I have to talk about it here because its story has gripped me like I haven't had a book seize my imagination in years. It is dark, and rich, and moody, but with jolts of intense action and stabs of humor. Nix walks a tightrope's path above conventions of the genre, and the experience is unlike any other fantasy read. I cannot remember the last time I read a novel which so effortlessly blends powerful influences (the likes of Ann McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Fritz Lieber) and yet stands alone as its own thing.
You may be wondering why I haven't read this book. After all, it's been mentioned in the same breath as books like The Golden Compass and The Wizard of Earthsea, and it's been out for going on two decades. Well, the only answer is, I'm a fool. I've put off many books that have been recommended to me over the years. It comes with being a bookseller. You work hard to carve out a space where you aren't reading for the job but for yourself, so when there's a book everyone likes, you don't necessarily take the time to read it. You "get to know it," through reviews, or word of mouth, or the like.
Sabriel is one of those books. I put it off for years, because I felt I was done with high fantasy. And if you've read lots of fantasy, particularly ones with somebody holding a sword on the front cover, then you feel like you've read them all. But this is so different.
Sabriel is about a young woman about to graduate from a finishing school on the mundane side of a magical land, who is suddenly forced to seek out her father, a necromancer who uses his magic to keep the dark forces of the world at bay. She is both prepared and not, and has to use both her limited experience and tremendous instinct for the ways of both the living and the dead to figure out what has happened to her dad.
Honestly, a summary of the book isn't enough. It just cannot convey how smart author Garth Nix is about skirting conventions, building suspense, establishing a world through nuance and suggestion-- all the great things you want from a fantasy tale.