Audiobook Review: Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel by Garth Nix sabriel

Published: 1995 by Harper Collins

Source: local library (audiobook)

Synopsis: Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.

With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen trilogy, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn’t always clear—and sometimes disappears altogether.

My thoughts: This is an old title, and I’d heard good things about it, but it wasn’t until I was looking for good YA audiobooks and a co-worker pointed out that it was narrated by Tim Curry that I moved this to the top of my TBR list. That turned out to be a good life choice.

Although we shelf this as YA at my library, it’s something I’d feel comfortable recommending to kids as young as ten, who sometimes are ready to move into the YA section for books. I often struggle with finding books I feel will be at the appropriate interest level for them content wise. Although the characters are older and finished with school, there is little romance beyond one fierce kiss and an emphasis on the father-daughter relationship that I imagine readers withing a large range of ages will relate to.

The world-building in Sabriel was very intriguing. The thin line between life and death, the journey between the gates, and the ringing of the bells were all interesting parts of a unique and imaginative system of magic.  While the plot was a fairly typical hero’s journey, there was plenty of action to hold my interest.

Mogget, the talking cat who is the mysterious form of a sinister creature, was by far my favorite character. His sassy and sarcastic comments were delightful. When I found out that the rest of the series doesn’t follow Sabriel, I was disappointed because I figured that made the chances of Mogget appearing in the subsequent volumes were low. Then my co-worker who recommended the series confirmed the cat does in fact reappear in subsequent volumes (yay!) While I felt that there was enough resolution in this installment, I’m still sad that I won’t get more of these characters if I continue the series.

I’ve had a hard time recommending this one to Real Actual Teens, both in the high school library and my public library. We have the dated cover pictured above, and I know that might contribute to it being a difficult sell (the white cover with a orange-ish symbol is more appealing, but still not excellent). While the concept is a good hook, I’ve had several teens say the writing was slow and that it didn’t immeditately grab them. They’ve returned it unfinished. I still think it can appeal to the right reader, but definitely not the teen looking for “the next big thing.” I’m going to continue to recommend it to readers who enjoy magical journeys and zombies and see if it strikes anyone’s fancy.

I’m also recommending it to older readers, especially the several commuters who routinely check out YA fantasy audiobooks. Tim Curry’s narration is absolutely fantastic. He does amazing voices and has a wonderful cadence, which is no surprise given his career. Most teens won’t know who he is, but people my age and older will likely give it a try based on that fact alone.

Ultimately, there’s a reason this should still be a part of any young adult collection. It’s a timeless fantasy with a strong female character set in a unique magical world.

Further Reading:

April at Good Books Good Wine: “Basically, Sabriel by Garth Nix kicks ass, has a sweet magic system, rocking characters, a taste of romance and zombies. In all, it is awesome and I recommend it with all my heart.”

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5 thoughts on “Audiobook Review: Sabriel by Garth Nix

  1. I personally loved Sabriel and the whole trilogy after discovering them (hideous covers and all) back when I was an early teen/tween. As you said, this story is a typical hero’s journey, so I think you might also be able to recommend it to those teens who enjoy their high fantasies. That’s what drew me into it. That’s sad you’ve had difficulties finding the right audience for this one, as it is quite good. Also, you should still continue with the series! It’s been a while, but I feel like the protagonists of the continuing books are somehow connected to Sabriel? I can’t remember whether she makes an appearance or not though.

  2. I just “reread” this whole series on audiobook. Tim Curry is a fantastic narrator. I think this is a great pick for kids who’ve loved LOTR and want something in that vein.

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