Next up: “Sabriel”, “Lirael”, “Abhorsen”, “The Creature in the Case”, “Clariel”, “To Hold the Bridge”, and “Goldenhand” by Garth Nix.
“The Creature in the Case” and “To Hold the Bridge” are novellas in two anthologies. “Clariel” is a prequel, and the other books are the core series. They all should be read in order of publication (how I’ve listed them).
The Old Kingdom series is a young-adult semi-horror-dark-fantasy series. It’s set in a fantasy world with two main countries, Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom, which are divided by a wall. Ancelstierre is basically England early-1900s with guns and cars and such, while the Old Kingdom is more medieval and magical. The magic is a little dark, dealing a lot with necromancers and ‘Free Magic’ creatures that would be at home in a horror movie.
The first book is about the titular character, Sabriel. She is the daughter of the Abhorsen, an individual who is tasked with protecting the people of the Old Kingdom from the Dead and Free Magic creatures. She is away at school in Ancelstierre when she learns her father is trapped in Death and must travel to the Old Kingdom to save him. It is a coming-of-age story of sorts, as Sabriel must use her in-born talents with Charter magic and Death to help her father and stop a great evil.
I really love the world-building in these books. The Free Magic and Charter magic are very interesting, and I really enjoy how Charter magic is tied to sound and runes. Everything about the Charter is interesting, and you learn more and more about it as the series goes on. It’s so cool; the imagery is wonderful (the biggest sadness is that the wonderful art of the first few books did not continue on the others). The Dead and the Free Magic creatures are more creepy than any other ‘horde of evil’ I’ve encountered in a book. It’s a bit Guillermo del Toro-level of creepy. That and the number of people who die definitely make this series dark fantasy, I think.
Speaking of the number of people who die… I feel so bad for those poor bastards in the Ancelstierran military; they seem to fulfill the role of cannon-fodder. Not that that means they aren’t developed as characters; they’re generally given enough personality that it hurts when they die. Really, anytime someone’s killed, you really feel it. Nix is good at making it matter in a very short time. No matter how short a time the character has been introduced, they’re going to be an interesting and very human character. I enjoyed all the characters that were introduced throughout the series, feeling for them, cheering for them. Nix’s ease with killing people off also makes all the tension feel real. Bad Stuff happens, and nobody is safe.
The series as a whole is very good, and I always want Nix to write more. That being said, Clariel is definitely one that I could be okay with not reading. It doesn’t add too much to the series, being a prequel that just gives some background to one character. It’s not great, as a book, and honestly I was a little disappointed when I read it. All the other books, however, are great. The short stories are solid, too, and I would definitely insist that they be read with the series. They do add a lot and are good stories in and of themselves.
Again, it’s a little dark. Violence, horror.