This poor post has been a long time in coming (hopefully Liz and Joi will forgive me). My first live blog through one of Nix's Old Kingdom books was Clariel in 2014. LIFE has intervened since then. Anyhow, I finally have space to pick the poor project up again starting at the start of The Abhorsen Trilogy: Sabriel.
In each post, I will share my thought from the previous spate of reading. I will also endeavour to accompany each post with a drawing giving a little glimpse into my experience of Nix's world. The first two drawing are done with bic pen on boarding passes as I began reading Sabriel on a trip to Tulsa.
As a final word: if you haven't read Sabriel and want to remain spoiler free, don't read on.
Ok, you're still reading, so from here on out your blood be on your own head. From my journal:
I've read Clariel at Liz's suggestion, so I know a little of what goes on in Nix's world. Still, we don;t ever get to see a trained Abhorsen in action. The beginning of the book has a strong aura of Realism that feels like the Medieval World without being a pastiche of it (c.f. EA's Dragon Age for another good example). The opening action is strongly evocative while remaining minimalist. There are obvious shades of Le Guin's Earthsea, but they are quickly submerged into Nix's own world (again, so as to avoid pastiche).
The sudden jump from the medieval world of the prologue to a fully modern world (which we're not sure at first is not our own world) in the first chapter is jarring, but instantly fills the reader with story questions. True to good writing, Sabriel's first action when we meet her is to Save The Cat (or bunny as the case may be). Nix complicates this tired trope by making it a morally ambiguous action: using necromantic magic to do good. Nix moves on to show us that Ancelstierre is a liminal world, between technology and magic, just as Sabriel is a liminal figure between the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre, childhood and womanhood, and the Abhorsen walks between the living and the dead. That's form following function, and it underscores the dominant motif of the book: boundaries. The fact that readers can identify with being in school also makes the first chapter a liminal space where the reader can "safely" enter Nix's fantasy.
Sabriel has more surprises for us in Chapter one. Instead of longing for the magical world on the other side of the wall, she is more interested in going off to University and living a mundane life. Sabriel's Call to Adventure is immediate, however, and she has no trouble answering it. There is potential here that Nix fails to capitalize on in an effort to get the story going as quickly as possible. The Call to Adventure is clever enough to wash away any deficiencies. What looks like an impending battle in the barracks with Grendel is turned on its head when the monster turns out to be Abhorsen's (Sabriel's father) cry for help. Like Isildur, Sabriel must take up her father's sword and finish his work. Unlike Tolkien's doomed prince, however, Sabriel also must take up her father's bells. These bells are a unique and interesting twist that marks Nix's peculiar world. I've seen necromancers in fantasy before, but the idea of bells calling and banishing the dead is delightfully novel. My wife plays handbells, and they are strange and amazing objects.
So above we have a picture of Sabriel receiving her father's sword and taking up The Call to Adventure. She seems to be having as much trouble with it as I have with my claymore (stupid thin wrists...), but don't let that deceive you. Sabriel has been well trained and well equipped. In the chapters to come, she won't be able to Mary Sue her way through the trials Nix has in store.