Sabriel, by Garth Nix, is my favorite book of all time.
The most compelling reason why this book has been read dozens of times, and listened to by audio book every night for 4 years, is because Nix creates a whole realm that is very much like our own, yet different, using a combination of great detail and leaving much up to the imaginings of the reader.
He describes a world that sits very much on the edge of what we know as reality. A world where magic, does in fact, exist, and other realms besides.
Nix's story tells of love, courage, and betrayal. A young woman, just fresh out of boarding school leaves the country of Ancelstierre to find her father, Abhorsen. As she travels into the Old Kingdom, the world of magic opens up further to her, and her enemies chase her down. She learns that her father is more than just a necromancer- he holds the distinguished title of Abhorsen, a force to deal with the Dead, banishing them from the realm of the Living forever. She also learns that with his disappearance, she too, must take up the bandolier of hand bells, carved with ancient symbols of great power and magic, to maintain the borders of Life and Death. Along the way, she is joined by Mogget, a servant who takes on the shape of a talking white cat and Touchstone, a man imprisoned for 200 years. Together, they uncover a plot of betrayal and danger not only to themselves but of both the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre.
Magic is a key element in the story. There are two types, one 'good,' called Charter Magic and one 'evil' called Free Magic, if one had to apply labels to them. However, it is so much more than that.
It was described to me that Charter magic was like the religion of the world, while the Free Magic was what the heretics used. It's not exactly untrue, but highly inaccurate. The Charter Magic is the magic of the world that was made safe, binding the power of magic to symbols and making it ordered and constrained. The Free Magic was raw and untapped, making it much more dangerous.
The thing I love most about Nix's work, though, isn't that there is magic and romance- it's that he leaves so much up to the imagination. He gives just enough detail for it all to seem real, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed. The details are there in the environment, but much of the magic and other elements have just enough that the reader can draw their own conclusions. I love a story where there is plenty of wiggle room for day dreaming and this is a story that promotes exactly that. Four years and countless readings and retellings later, I still often find myself daydreaming about Sabriel and her companions.
I love this story so much, I considered naming my child after the main character, but alas, we are having a boy. :)
This review was done as part of a giveaway in hopes of winning a Bell Charm from the author, Garth Nix. Details can be found on his fan page here.