Way back in 1995 Garth Nix created an intriguing world with his book Sabriel. A world in which a kingdom of magic was separated from a more mundane land (Ancelstierre) that felt like 1930’s England, and in that magic kingdom necromancers raised the dead and risked the world to bring back an ancient evil. Fighting against this were the Abhorsen, a family of good necromancers whose job it was to return the undead to the afterlife.
It was a great and rich world that was developed in an initial trilogy of books covering Sabriel’s discovery of her legacy as an Abhorsen after her father’s death. And Nix has subsequently made sporadic revisits to this world enriching our understanding with sequels and prequels featuring other characters. In this, his latest book, we visit the story of Sabriel’s parents Terciel & Elinor.
It’s interesting to read a story when you know the fate of both of these characters (Elinor in particular is introduced in Sabriel as having died in childbirth with her daughter stillborn. Sabriel was then retrieved from death by her father, but her mother could not be saved). This focuses on the meeting between the younger Terciel who is a trainee Abhorsen and Elinor who is growing up in Ancelstierre ignorant of her family’s past.
Tragic events occur that force Elinor to leave her ignorance behind and journey to the Old Kingdom north beyond the wall. She learns more about her ancestry and the bigger family she did not know she had and we come to understand how she was special and this reflects in her daughter (and the generation after that). We also learn much more about Terciel and see that the stoic man who was Sabriel’s father used to be very different and as unsure of himself as his daughter was.
Without spoiling the plot there are events set in motion, and happening in the background, of this book that come to live in the Sabriel trilogy. It gives us a chance to understand the motivations and abilities of people who have shaped the characters we know but before this were just names and impressions. And it works in its own right as an exciting adventure story featuring a teenage heroine who is more than prepared to fight her own corner, and to act on her attraction to Terciel even when she has foreseen the consequences of this. Definitely worth a read for fans of the Old Kingdom series, but if you’re new to this world I would recommend starting with Sabriel instead.