Garth Nix’s Abhorsen (2003)


I have a little under a week to go until the latest part of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen/Old Kingdom series, Goldenhand, makes its way onto my kindle and I still have another book and (I think) two short stories to go. Where did the time go? At least I have finished the third book of the series and the culmination of the original trilogy, Abhorsen.

Abhorsen follows smoothly on from Lireal, with no time gaps. Remembrancer Lireal finds out that she is also the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, eventually to take over the dead-keeping role that the first book’s protagonist, Sabriel, currently holds. And Sam, no longer expected to follow in his mother’s footsteps, is a Wallmaker, which explains his natural talent over Charter Magic. Those two, along with the Disreputable Dog and Mogget, continue on their journey to rescue Sam’s friend, Nicholas Sayre, and to prevent him from accidentally raising an ancient and destructive evil. An evil that was bound in the Beginning under spells, metals, and bone.

To me, this is the gutsiest book in the series for a lot of reasons. Garth Nix took a lot of potential risks with Abhorsen, breaking a lot of unspoken writer rules, and I think they mostly work out. First, it does not stand alone. Abhorsen relies a lot on previous knowledge built up in Lireal to carry the story – but I’m quite sure that if Nix had gone through the typical exposition that a novel would to stand on its own then the pace would have been thrown completely. And it is one hell of a pace! The entire novel covers the space of only a week or so and it certainly doesn’t laze about. There is a lot of information packed in, from the intensive actions scenes that Nix seems to favour to further world-building and explanation of Charter Magic. But even without reading the entire thing, you can see that Garth Nix is ballsy – not many authors would kill/otherwise-get-rid-of two favoured characters in the prologue and a third before the first quarter is over!

My favourite part of Abhorsen, as with the whole series, is the world-building. This book just adds more to the foundation set by Sabriel and Lireal as there is a particular focus on the history of the world thanks to the thing Nicholas Sayre is uncovering. You finally get to understand the true natures of the Dog and Mogget, along with a greater (though not yet complete) understanding of the world’s magics. And Death. You finally get to see all the way through Death and it is fascinating/horrifying/beautiful. Abhorsen also brings hints of Garth Nix’s sci-fi edge through. I had always considered it a fantasy series before but, particularly through Lireal’s role as a Remembrancer who can See the past, there are aspects that would more typically be expected within a science fiction setting. I appreciate the slight genre mashing as it adds yet another exciting dimension to the Old Kingdom world but, through the author’s skill, it doesn’t encroach on my adoration of fantasy.

Now this is the paragraph where I have to say that if I am going to do SPOILERS, then they are likely to be here. This is because one of the things I love most about Abhorsen is the end. I love suddenly understanding the truth about Mogget and Dog. I’m not sure if it was because I was a dumb child when I first read it, or if it truly is so subtle that I’m not meant to work it out on the first read, but I didn’t see it coming. Even with a certain Lady appearing – I didn’t have a clue! On this re-read, I noticed all the little hints that are dropped here and there, though they are mainly in relation to Dog. But, as I said in my review of Lireal, Nix uses mirroring to hint to the reader and the Dog is probably the only way you could work out the true nature of Mogget. I also love that the Dog keeps to her disreputable personality to the very end, defying what had been before and the rules that had come since. Reading the part where she says goodbye to Lireal, suddenly white haired and unable to stand, very nearly broke me. END SPOILERS.

Though I love so many aspects of Abhorsen, it is unfortunately my least favourite of the original trilogy and it is all because of its one major flaw. Pacing. It is the complete opposite of Lireal – where the second book was languid, taking its time to reach its conclusion, this one sprints for the entire novel. There is no breathing space. Everything happens one after the other after the other after the other. It’s endless. True, this is fitting with the constrained time of the novel and the pressure put upon Sam and Lireal to stop the bad thing from being risen. And, for the first three quarters of the novel, it works to keep you reading constantly. It took me only two days to read up to the final quarter. It then took me a week to read the last section. That constant pace is exhausting and, by the time you reach the final quarter, you’re starting to get burnt out. The final quarter also all takes place over only a number of hours so you start to get this overwhelming feeling of ‘why isn’t it here yet’? Some of my favourite bits are in that final quarter but it’s just so hard to read!

If ever there was a book that made me scream for a prequel (not Clariel, one about the Brightshiners please!), it is Abhorsen. The world-building and history given in this novel is just unreal and it makes up for even the worst flaws. I’d settle for a television series – I can help write it if you want! Re-reading it just makes me even more excited for Goldenhand.


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