I stumbled upon The Old Kingdom Trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) by accident one day while browsing Amazon and wondering where I would satisfy by Diana Wynne Jones yen. What I found was a bit different, but no less satisfying.
Reading these books is like jumping into the deep end of the pool feet first and hoping you’ll swim. The author doesn’t draw you in gently–you’re immediately immersed in the Old Kingdom’s alternate universe and have to patch together your knowledge of this world’s magical system. I found myself scratching my head often throughout Sabriel, the first book, wondering about the differences between Charter Magic and Free Magic, but eventually found myself slowly figuring it out as I became drawn into Nix’s world. The sequels, Lirael and Abhorsen, spell out the magical systems in more explicit detail, particularly the birth of the Old Kingdom, but Nix isn’t the type of author to lead his readers by the hand. Still, if you read carefully, the Old Kingdom Trilogy is a rich and rewarding experience.
Sabriel follows an 18-year-old Abhorsen-in-waiting, who comes into her magical heritage after her father’s mysterious death. Determined to find her father’s body (and pull him back from death), Sabriel sets out on a dangerous journey that will unravel the Old Kingdom’s once-forgotten past. Sabriel was a quick, immersive read, packed with page-turning action and gory horror (not recommended for younger children). I loved Sabriel as a heroine: she’s gutsy, decisive, and full of heart. Her sidekick, Moggett, was the highlight of the book for me, however, thanks to his witty dialogue and shady origins.
Lirael is split between two characters: Lirael, a Clayr (a race of clairvoyants who live on a glacier) and Prince Sameth. This book’s events take place 14 years after Sabriel. Lirael is something of a foil to Sabriel: she’s powerless and hopeless. Still, Nix infuses her with enough courage to keep readers rooting for her. Without that courage, she would be an unbearable protagonist. Sameth’s life runs parallel to Lirael’s. While she’s struggling to come to terms with her (seeming) lack of magic, he’s trying to run away from his as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, events beyond their comprehension are beginning to unfold when a Necromancer called Hedge tries to dig up a powerful magical artifact that could destroy the Old Kingdom and unlock the doors of Death.
Abhorsen is the last of the trilogy and the most satisfying, so I won’t spoil the plot’s twists and turns. I look at it as part two of Lirael. With the Old Kingdom’s origins finally revealed, Lirael learns about her true magical heritage (and her destiny) as she works against the clock to defeat Hedge and save the Old Kingdom.