By Garth Nix
(292 pages, young adult fantasy, 1995)
Poised on the cusp between multiple worlds, Sabriel must leave boarding school to take up the family business: that of ensuring that the dead stay dead. Inheriting the necromantic bells of her father recently trapped in the gates of death, Sabriel must figure out how to free him. Along the way she is aided by a powerful free-magic creature with dubious intentions as well as Touchstone, a mysterious man Sabriel awakens and releases from a centuries-long imprisonment. A great evil must be stopped, even if at all costs, and Sabriel must learn not only the skills of the trade but also when to let go.
What could be very dark and grim is made much more whimsical by Nix’s writing. Free-magic forces come in forms of cats forced to sleep by the bells on their collars, and break-neck travel happens in paper bird planes, steered by whistling. Nix creates a fascinating world with ordered Charter magic in opposition and relation to chaotic free-magic and a magical realm as an independent country bordering what reads like a nineteenth-century western nation state, devoid of magic and instead in pursuit of science. Like the sequels after this book and their heroines, the titular Sabriel is a strong character readers will admire and find room to identify with.
The book is available in the library, through Hoopla and through Libby as an audiobook. Visit the Concord Public Library online at concordpubliclibrary.net.