Sabriel: Great Worldbuilding, But Touchstone Is Boring

I’m going to be posting a book review every day this week!

Sabriel is written by Garth Nix. It is the first book in the Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series. It was published in 1995 by HarperCollins. Nix’s website can be found here.


“Ever since she was a tiny child, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the random power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won’t stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and to find him Sabriel must cross back into that world.

Though her journey begins alone, she soon finds companions: Mogget, whose seemingly harmless feline form hides a powerful—and perhaps malevolent—spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories.

With threats on all sides and only each other to trust, the three must travel deep into the Old Kingdom, toward a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own hidden destiny.”

What I Liked:

So, normally, I don’t like books about necromancers. Kelley Armstrong’s trilogy was fantastic fun, though, and this one, while darker, has great worldbuilding. Although I had to keep looking back to see which bell does what, the setting, the mechanics, the world, sucked me straight in. There’s this sense of the vastness of the Old Kingdom that is made all the more vast by the fact that Sabriel and Touchstone seem to be some of the only people in the world, and often the only ones. Even when they’re in a large city, such as Belisaere, they somehow seem to be the only people there (or at least the only ones that matter). Oppositely, Ancelstierre is packed with people—soldiers, students, teachers. It’s a fascinating contrast, and I wonder if this is somehow tied to Sabriel’s character and the development she undergoes.

Speaking of Sabriel, I love how while she’s in Ancelstierre she’s all “I’M THE BEST MAGE EVER” and then when she gets to the Old Kingdom she’s all “UH, NO I’M NOT.” She still manages to pull off incredible feats that all protagonists obligatorily (and obviously) must do to be a Good Protagonist/Hero (Why must all protagonists be The Best??), but those are mostly mitigated by her inexperience and lack of knowledge about the Old Kingdom. Her character development is mostly good, and the part at the end when she and Rogir are fighting was brilliant.

Obvious romance is obvious, but at least it wasn’t so completely centered in the plot like a lot of YA books tend to do.

What I Didn’t Like:

Was it that necessary to have that scene where Sabriel overhears a couple having sex and gets all jealous because she thinks it’s Touchstone and the maid? Okay, maybe it had something to do with her character development (or at least the romance development), but it just seemed incredibly voyeuristic (and more graphic than these things usually are in YA) and also unnecessary. Ok, yeah, Sabriel has the hots for Touchstone. We get it. He’s literally the only guy she’s met (who’s “available”). He’s also not even a very well-developed character and incredibly boring. Sabriel is ten times more interesting than Touchstone. Mogget is more interesting. I mean, not everyone can be or is interesting, but at least make him likeable before making her jealous. As it stands, the scene felt completely out of place and unnecessary.

While Nix’s tendency to skip “the” in front of some words (“She touched bells and sword,” etc.) bothered me, at least he was consistent with it. I got more used to it as the book went on.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, sexual situations.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Fantastic fan art by Ashley Hankins Illustration (


Quashing her natural curiosity to find out exactly what had happened, Sabriel folded the man’s arms across his chest, after first unclenching the grip that his right hand still had on his sword hilt—perhaps he had not been taken totally unawares after all. Then she stood and drew the Charter marks of fire, cleansing, peace and sleep in the air above the corpse, while whispering the sounds of those same marks. It was a litany that every Charter Mage knew, and it had the usual effect. A glowing ember sparked up between the man’s folded arms, multiplied into many stabbing, darting flames, then fire whooshed the full length of the body. Seconds later it was out and only ash remained, ash staining a corselet of blackened mail.

Sabriel took the soldier’s sword from the pile of ashes and thrust it through the melted snow, into the dark earth beneath. It stuck fast, upright, the hilt casting a shadow like a cross upon the ashes.

~Nix 32-33

“This is a Mordaut,” she said to Touchstone, who was stifling a half-born yawn. “A weak spirit, catalogued as one of the Lesser Dead. They like to ride with the Living—cohabiting the body to some extent, directing it, and slowly sipping the spirit away. It makes them hard to find.”

“What do we do with it now?” asked Touchstone, eyeing the quivering lump of shadow with distaste. It clearly couldn’t be cut up, consumed by fire, or anything else he could think of.

“I will banish it, send it back to die a true death,” replied Sabriel. Slowly, she drew Kibeth, using both hands. She still felt uneasy, for the bell was twisting in her grasp, trying to sound of its own accord, a sound that would make her walk in Death.

~Nix 161

 Overall Review:

Sabriel has some great worldbuilding and I’m eager to see what happens to this world that is just slightly revealed in this book. Sabriel has some good development, although in the romance department it fell way flat. Why should I care about Touchstone again? The ending was fantastic, specifically the resolution of Sabriel versus Rogir, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

You can buy this book here: Sabriel (Abhorsen)

2 thoughts on “Sabriel: Great Worldbuilding, But Touchstone Is Boring

  1. Pingback: Abhorsen: A Tintinnabulation Of Bells | Leaf's Reviews

  2. Pingback: Lirael: So Much Better Than Sabriel | Leaf's Reviews

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