Friday, February 16, 2007

In Death with Garth Nix

Those of you who frequent the blog for the sake of the reviews have probably been wondering why I've stopped reading lately. Well, the truth is that I haven't, but I've been rereading some old favourites, and have not felt the need to post reviews. But, perhaps I'll make an exception for the Abhorsens. Over Christmas I found a single volume containing the complete Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix, for a ridiculously low price of something like $6.99 - it would have been criminal not to snap it up immediately. I would also recommend the audiobook versions of the stories which I listened to a couple of years ago. This is a simply fantastic teen fantasy/horrorish series. But I also recommend it completely for adult readers. It is simply engrossing. I haven't quite finished rereading the third book in the trilogy yet, but I'm feeling the need to gush, so here I am. If you don't have the complete set, here are the individual titles:




All by Garth Nix

In Sabriel, we are introduced to Sabriel as a young girl, about to graduate from high school in Ancelstierre, a modernish country that borders the Old Kingdom, Sabriel's homeland. But Sabriel is no ordinary school girl, she is the Abhorsen-in-waiting, daughter to the Abhorsen who is charged with undoing the work of Necromancers, and of banishing the dead to beyond the Ninth Gate of Death. Now, Sabriel's father, the Abhorsen, is missing, and she must take up the mantle of the Abhorsen much earlier than she could have expected. This is especially problematic as the Old Kingdom is in a state of anarchy, having been without a Monarch for 200 years, and without a regent for more than 20, and which is now overrun by the lesser Dead, who seem to be under the control of one of the Greater Dead who has somehow escaped from Death. In her adventure she is joined by Mogget, a cat-shaped creature of strange magical powers, who is a servant to the Abhorsen, and by Touchstone, another character of great, but spoilerish interest to the plot.

In Lirael, we meet Lirael, daughter of the Clayr, a sighted sisterhood. But Lirael, despite being already a teen, has not yet awoken to the Sight. She is desperately depressed by her situation until she becomes a Third Assistant Librarian in the great and dangerous Library of the Clayr, where she begins to come into her own as a great Charter Mage, and finds a friend in the Disreputable Dog, another animalish being. We also meet Sameth, son of the Abhorsen, who is desperately afraid of Death, and unable to reconcile himself to his future.

In Abhorsen many things that I cannot tell as they would spoil the conclusions of the other two books occur - suffice it to say that this is also an incredibly exciting adventure, and that the encounters with Death become even grosser, and that all the storylines come together beautifully.

These short synopses cannot do justice to the books, which involve a fairly deep discussion of the dichotomies between good and evil, life and death. The world of the Old Kingdom is so beautifully and completely constructed that by the time you finish the 700+ pages of narrative you feel this must be a real place and you feel completely caught up in the horrifying world of the Abhorsen. There is a mythology and a palpable history to the world, and the descriptions of Death are completely creepy and visceral. The whole magic of the Abhorsen and the world is taken up within "The Charter", which seems mysterious to the reader for the greater part of the tale, and is wound up completely satisfactorily at the end. Such a good series. Such wonderfully strong characters (male and female and animalish). I completely recommend it to anyone who likes speculative fiction and has not yet experienced the series. Also read the Keys to the Kingdom series for younger readers. I've only made it through the first two books in that series but they are awesome.

I also have a sequelish book that I haven't yet had time to read, called Across the Wall. I'm really looking forward to it. But first, I am looking forward to The Unwritten Girl, by James Bow, which arrived in the mail this week.

So there you have it, not so much a review as a lovefest, but at least remotely on topic for the blog.


False Prophet said...

I loved the Abhorsen trilogy. I was a huge fantasy reader in my teens and early 20s, but gave up on the genre because I was getting tired of all the Tolkien-wannabes. I got to the sixth book of Robert Jordan's Waste of Time and the fourth book of Terry Goodkind's "Wheel of Time with gratuitous gang-rapes" series before tossing aside all fantasy in disgust.

The Abhorsen books, along with The Golden Compass, demonstrated to me that the fantasy genre was alive and well, but among the young adult titles. While adult fantasy authors kept writing about the same old cliches, there were good authors in the genre writing for younger readers.

(You're thinking, "What about Harry Potter?" Rowling probably pushed the genre to the forefront of children's literature, but at first it wasn't clear whether HP was a flash in the pan, and we'd be besieged with a storm of HP-clones before the whole trend died down. Pullman and Nix showed me that there were other good fantasy authors besides Rowling, writing for children and young adults.)

Now, it seems, there are some good authors for adult fantasy. Neil Gaiman, whose towering reputation precedes him, and China Mieville, updating the low fantasy of Fritz Leiber for a new generation (I will add Susanna Clarke to their number once she adds a few more works to her corpus). George RR Martin has received a lot of praise for his current series (which I haven't read yet--I will, I promise). I have to wonder if the success of the children's and YA fantasy authors have convinced the publishers to take more chances with adult fantasy, and buy manuscripts from people who aren't Tolkien-clones. I certainly hope so.

MadJenny said...

Dude. Really. Give me a chance to catch up. Where, by the way, is your promised "double review" of the Darwin books???

I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I think Susanna Clarke does have another book either on the way or out already. Haven't read any China Mieville or George RR Martin yet. Neil Gaiman, as you know, I adore. Have you finished Stardust yet? If not you must must must before the movie comes out, just in case the movie ruins it, which it shouldn't. Did you know Claire Danes is in it?

In the adult world, I wonder too about whether the success of transition authors like Neil Gaiman, who are so huge in other genres, and whose (non-Tolkeiny) fantasy endeavours are also so successful have had some impact.

But, I do think a lot of the boom in publishing fantasy at all levels right now can be credited to the HP phenomenon. Once publishers saw that adults were devouring those books, they had to realize there was a market for them.

I think I might reread the Pullman series again soon. I want them to be very fresh in my mind when that movie comes out, it will be truly heartbreaking if the daemons are wrong.

False Prophet said...

Gah! So many books to read! I still have to finish Why Darwin Matters, and the other half-dozen books I'm in the middle of, before I can move on to Stardust. Then maybe I can finally finish the rest of His Dark Materials.

I remember an interview with Gaiman in Publishers' Weekly, soon after Princess Mononoke (for which he wrote the adapted English screenplay for) came out. He said "I've written best-selling and award-winning works in multiple formats--comics, novels, teleplays, screenplays--and everytime I sit down with a publisher or a producer, the first thing they ask me is, 'and you are?...' "

MadJenny said...

Ya. He says things like that. Being all humble-like. But really? His name is the top Google Neil, he's hugely famous, people know who he is. If they haven't had their heads buried in the sand that is. At least that is my not so humble opinion.

Matthew said...

I wouldn't rush to read George RR Martin's books the publishers seem to be jerks who are trying to milk the most amount of money out of people possible by re-releasing his books with different covers.

And while his books are well written there is nothing terribly unique and special about them that sticks in my memory and he was said that the Fire and Ice series will be 7 books but he's slow to publish. And Robert Jordan said he was going to finish in 7 books as well until his books made the NY Times list.

Another reason to not rush is you'll soon be able to watch them as HBO series.

MadJenny said...

Thanks Matthew - I'll move him back down the very long list!

It is really annoying when publishers do that, isn't it. I have a few series where the first few books are in one style cover and the last few are in another. I would much prefer they were all the same.

Are his books actually being developed for television?

False Prophet said...

Tolkien kind of set the template that fantasy epics must be trilogies (or quadrilogies, quintilogies, etc.). Ironically, Tolkien never intended The Lord of the Rings to be separated into multiple tomes, but paper shortages in post-war Britain prevented his publisher from releasing a 1000+ page tome.

I'd heard that Wheel of Time was supposed to be originally 5 books, but basically the publisher kept offering him money to keep writing. So in the early books major villains are killed off left in right, then none are killed for a long time and all kinds of unnecessary new characters were added in the middle. Oh, and there were whole books where nothing happened.

Maggie said...

Ha! You're preaching to the choir on this one. I've read every Garth Nix book from 'Ragwitch' to 'Lady Friday!' But the 'Abhorsen' series is definitely my favourite. :D

Maggie said...

Oh, and I disagree with Matthew on the George R. R. Martin books. I *LOVE* the 'Fire and Ice' series!!! It's like a big fat fantasy soap opera. Read the first one. I guarantee the characters will just grab you and won't let go. My fave is Tyrion, born dwarf-size and ugly in a family of tall beautiful Lannisters. :)

MadJenny said...

Doh! Back up the list George RR Martin goes. There's so much to read that sometimes I wish there was some sort of book I.V. so that you could hook yourself up while doing other things and have all the lovely stories just flow into you.

I must admit to really liking fantasy that's a bit soapoperish. And the ugly misfits are, I agree, almost always the most enjoyable characters.

Matthew said...

According to Wikipedia George RR Martin has already signed the deal with HBO

GEEM at Wiki

MadJenny said...

Thanks! So that will probably be available on Canadian TV in about 5 years. Plenty of time to read the books before then, even if I did get my first list of 2007 releases that I need to read for the year today.

That guys picture seems to me to indicate that he could be nothing at all besides an author of speculative fiction. Maybe a mad scientist. But not really. He really really needs to be a fantasy author.

Matthew said...

Sounds like you need to read my article on Torrents which is how I get all my UK and US speciality TV.

Torrents are King

False Prophet said...

I can show you how to set up torrents. I use uTorrent and generally find the .torrent files through

MadJenny said...

hmm. well. ok. if I haven't figured it out by Sunday I'll get you to help. If I decide it is something I should try. Thanks!

James Bow said...

I'm glad to hear that the Unwritten Girl arrived. I'm currently proofing the page proofs on its sequel "Fathom Five".

I'm also getting into Pratchett's Discworld series, having found an 'in' using the Tiffany Aching novels. He's a hoot!

MadJenny said...

Hi James,

I'm already part way through The Unwritten Girl now. What a fun premise!

I definitely need to read more Terry Pratchet. Somehow I've managed to miss out on a lot of his books. What I've read has been fantastic though.