Sabriel is the first book in a trilogy by Garth Nix. It tells the tale of Sabriel, a young girl with an unusual father, who lives in Ancelstierre. When she was five her father Abhorsen took her to a boarding school on the Ancelstierre side of the Wall, away from the magic and peril of the Old Kingdom where she was born. Abhorsen regularly visits with her, using Charter magic (the opposite side of this is Free Magic, without out of the rules that governs Charter Magic). But on one occasion he fails to make their rendezvous and Sabriel, realising that her father is in terrible danger, decides to travel into the Old Kingdom to find him.
On her journey she meets some intriguing characters, such as the cat Mogget and the mysterious young man she knows only as Touchstone. Sabriel is drawn into an age-old battle against evil when she takes her place as the Abhorsen (discovering that her father's name was more a title).
This book was incredible! I loved Sabriel - she is brave, clever and compassionate. I also enjoyed the irascible cat Mogget - and his terrifying alter ego. Once we had known Touchstone for a while, he became a character to invest in. Because the cast list of the book is so pared down the main characters really come alive and are definitely three dimensional. I really cared what happened to them by the thrilling climax of the story.
Nix introduces a truly original idea in the Abhorsen - a Charter mage who has the ability to travel beyond the veil into death and move people back and forth across that veil. I absolutely loved the different bells that Abhorsen/Sabriel uses to tie the dead and ensure they do her bidding. It is rare to find a fantasy book that produces a concept that is so completely unique.
This book - as well as being full of adventure and even a little bit of romance - was also incredibly scary! Sabriel's encounter with the Mordicant as she flees to her father's house kept me on the edge of my seat. The occasion when she meets Mogget's alter ego was even more terrifying, since Mogget had been til that point a character on the side of good.
The world-building was also of exceptional quality. Ancelstierre is created to look much like a Britain of the 40s/50s - motor cars are fairly rare and lanterns and candles are still the norm - while the Old Kingdom is, as the name suggests, older. Here, swords are used instead of guns and it feels more medieval. In the area around the Wall, magic is more erratic - especially the further you travel into Ancelstierre - and the soldiers who guard the waypoint use both machine guns and bayonet-type spears in order to force back the restless dead.
I can't praise this book enough - it was imaginative, compelling and full of wonderful characters. Not one part of the book felt like filler. I can't wait to pick up the sequel!