Monday, February 23, 2015

The Bells Of Death

Are we ready for some rambling?  Good 'cause here we go! Have you ever had the experience of picking up the perfect book for the perfect moment?  I started this book with no real idea of what it was about, other then I had seen it since I was little and that many people recommended it.  What I found was a great book that perfectly fit the cold and bleak atmosphere that has been pervading the East Coast this winter.  The book is Sabriel, the first book in the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD.
This book is set in two very different realms within the same world.  There is Ancelstierre, a 1900ish era world that has science, cars, guns and the like.  In the north, separated by the Wall is the Old Kingdom, a land full of magic.  Our story centers on Sabriel, the daughter of a man called Abhorsen and sent from the Old Kingdom to live beyond the wall in a boarding school.  She receives an education not only in the normal stuff, but in the basics of what is called Charter Magic, which is what they call people who wield the "good" magic from the Old Kingdom.  Sabriel has plenty of contact with her father who teaches her to enter and walk among death, instructing her in the use of various Charter laden bells to help control the dead who seek to rejoin the living.  While at school she is visited by a shade messenger who brings her fathers bells and sword, signifying that her father can no longer use them.  Sabriel crosses the wall and is set upon by a dead creature who is intent on
killing her.  She narrowly escapes and finds her fathers house and learns that the term Abhorsen is the name given to the person who holds the office of Necromancer.  Unlike most stories, this is not a bad thing.  In this realm the Abhorsen work with death to make sure that the Free Magic (usually bad magic) is not used by the dead, or evil people to use the dead for unsavory purposes.  She meets Mogget, a Free Magic creature that has been contained in a cats body.  She continues her hurried education by learning that the Royal Family, who is instrumental to the health of the kingdom has disappeared.  After yet another dead minion tries to get her, she sets out to find her father and figure out just what the heck is going on.   Mogget joins her and she uses a construct from a previous Abhorsen to fly out of the residence.  She eventually finds one of the great Charter Stones cracked...which is really really bad as these are part of what keeps the good magic good.  She ends up down in a reservoir, rescuing a guy who appears to be in suspended animation from death.  Turns out he is a bastard prince who watched his half brother murder the Queen and Princesses to break the great Charter Stones.  The three of them set out to fight the undead shade of the princes brother and have various adventures in the old kingdom.  Eventually they learn that his body is in Ancelstierre and Sabriel and co head there to stop him.  Sabriel eventually finds her father, who is pretty much dead, but is able to help her out.  Sabriel and her friends convince the guard at the wall (who have some experience with the Free Magic) to help defend them until they can destroy the bad guy's body.  Much magic, death and mayhem occur, culminating in the destruction of the bad guys body, and apparently the victory of Sabriel and her friends.  The End.
Contrary to the brief and probably confusing synopsis I very much enjoyed this book.  The story hooked me from the first page and I kept turning them until the very end.  So what did I like.  I very much enjoyed the idea of two different realms occupying the same world and how they developed completely differently from each other.  I always wonder how a world with magic would develop, what technologies would and would not need to be invented and so forth.  This story does a bit of comparing and contrasting which I enjoyed.  Sabriel was a good character, capable, realistic and  aware of the gaps in her education.  She wants to go and get things done, but is able to actually plan and listen to her advisers without being a push over.  The atmosphere, especially on the Old Kingdom side with it's freezing bleakness was a perfect visualization of a glorious kingdom gone to seed.  I liked how death in this world worked, with it's various gates and levels gave a Dante's Inferno type feel to the whole thing, while still being very original and very complete.  The various tools the
Abhorsen had to deal with the dead were pretty cool too.  I loved the idea that the necromancers where no necessarily the bad guys in this story.  To often death is associated with evil, and while there were bad necromancers, the Abhorsen were good, necessary and revered.  What was not so awesome was a bit of ambiguity when it came to the history of the Old Kingdom and how the magic worked.  The author seemed to have a pretty rich back story to this world in mind as he wrote this book, and I got bits and pieces of it but for the most part you just kinda had to go along with it. I want to know about the Charter Magic, and the various lines of people/beings who created it, I want to know how the two separate realms came to be, and I want to know some of the personal history behind some of the various towns and peoples.  I'm hoping this is remedied in future books.  Speaking of future books, the ending to this one was way to abrupt for my taste.  I felt like we got this great story, a huge build up, a fabulous battle and that was it.  There was no real ending for any of the characters, just a bit of "Oh hey we won awesome so the stories over right?" type of vibe.  Overall a good read, a good story, good characters, and an original, fairly well executed idea. The whole book has a very neat vibe to it that I enjoyed very much.  I recommend it for anybody looking for something a bit familiar and a bit different at the same time, somebody who needs a good winter book, or just a good book.   I give it 8 out of 10 Charter Marks and will be picking up the next one shortly.
How do you feel about Death as a good thing?  How much time do you think I spend thinking about the logistics of theoretical worlds?  What other books have I been missing out on?

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