Recommended Reads: Young Adult Fiction
The Old Kingdom Trilogy by Garth Nix
‘Sabriel’ is set in two realms Ancelstierre, an alternate reality early 20th century England, and the Old Kingdom. The Old Kingdom is a land of magic and danger, where spirits from the dead and Free Magic roam the land. Ancelstierre is run by politicians who deny the existence of magic north of Wall, the border between the two lands.
The book is named after it’s heroine, Sabriel, a girl from the Old Kingdom who has been raised in a boarding school south of the Wall. Sabriel’s father is a Necromancer, binding the walking dead and putting them to a final rest, preventing them from performing evil deeds at the hands of an unknown villain.
When Sabriel is sent the necromancy tools (a set of 9 bells which are used to bind spirits into death) by her father, she realises something is desperately wrong, “he himself was unable to return to the realm of the living… And that meant he was either dead, or trapped by something that should have passed beyond the final gate”. She must travel to the Old Kingdom to rescue her father and prevent the great evil’s return.
With the Old Kingdom Trilogy, Garth Nix has created something that is becoming relatively rare in Young Adult Fiction, a strong female central character who is smart, strong, interesting and doesn’t spend her entire time fawning over the men in her life. She is determined, tenacious and the book reads like reality, even though it is part of the fantasy genre.
You won’t find vampires or werewolves but you will find dead who refuse to remain dead, a young woman trying to find her father and growing into an adult in the process. The pace is a little slow to begin with but stick with it, once she is over the wall Sabriel’s adventures move along at a steady pace, full of imaginative detail that makes you feel like you know the country she is travelling through.
Lirael is the second book of the trilogy and follows the eponymous character, Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr. The Clayr are a group of oracles living in the north of the Old Kingdom, introduced in the first book. She feels like a misfit – she doesn’t look like her sisters, who are all chestnut skinned with very pale blond hair, and eyes of blue or green – instead Lirael has dark hair, pale skin and brown eyes and cannot yet see the future as the others do.
I don’t want to say much more about this, and the final book Abhorsen, as it may give away a little of the ending of Sabriel. I did find Lirael a bit more hard going than the first book, as there is a lot of exposition whilst Lirael is working in the library, but it brings about the new character of the Disreputable Dog. It is a bit slower paced initially, but once Lirael leaves the safety of the Clayr’s Glacier the brilliant storytelling comes back into the fore.
If you are not usually a fan of fantasy writing, or you’ve never tried it before, I would definitely use Sabriel as a way in. It’s a breath of fresh air amongst other Young Adult Fiction, it’s a book that deals with the loss of family and coming to terms with oneself and one’s responsibilities. Lirael’s main theme is that society does not have to dictate the outcome of your future; it is something that you can develop and adjust for yourself.
Sabriel won the Aurealis Award for best young-adult novel and best fantasy novel in 1995. It is also an ALA Notable Book and was a short-list nominee for the 1996 Ditmar Award for best long fiction.
Abhorsen was a joint Aurealis Award winner for Best Young Adult Novel 2003. The novel was a Teens’ Top Ten selection for 2003 by the Young Adult Library Services Association.
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