The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix (also known as the Old Kingdom series, depending on where you are from).
Back when I was many years younger, I was going on a trip. As a kid, I did not have the money to buy every book that caught my eye, particularly because I was an avid reader, so a visit to the library was in order. As I browsed the teen and YA sections, I came across a book that changed my reading habits forever.
I am not my father, who has a ridiculously good memory for dates, so I cannot remember when this was. I want it to have been when I was 11 or twelve, but I think it is actually more likely to have been later, around 15.
Why is that important? Because this is the book that got me reading fantasy almost exclusively.
Lirael by Garth Nix.
I could not get enough of this book, and unfortunately, unbeknownst to me this was the second book of three. After I hungrily absorbed and finished the story in a foreign country, I could
not wait to get home and find the other two. Both Sabriel (the first) and Abhorsen (the third) had me completely spellbound. So much so that my first attempt at my own fantasy novel used a similar system of magic.*
I forgot to cancel my 30 free day trial of Audible, so I had a few credits to spend. Generally, I only really like listening to books that I have read before, so I had a browse of the library and happened across the Abhorsen trilogy.
I exchanged a book that I had already brought (as much as I loved the book in question I couldn’t stand the narrator) and brought all three in the series. Back in October I attended a signing for Garth Nix’s latest works, To Hold The Bridge and Clariel, and I had yet to read either. It was the perfect opportunity to re-immerse myself in the series.
I had read the books for the second time 7 years ago after introducing my then boyfriend, now hubby to the magic of fantasy fiction, yet listening to the series still had me completely hooked. I could not wait to put my headphones back in to listen.
Tim Curry’s narration is wonderful. His inflections and emphasis, something I had not liked on the book I returned, is spot on, and his character voices are diverse and chromatic. I enjoyed his reading so much that upon reading Clariel it was his voice in my head.
As for the storyline, while the system of magic has less science behind it than epic fantasy, the world has historical and cultural depth. There is also a political side in the latter two books which is extremely topical at the moment. While the complexity may be lacking for adults, it is in essence a YA series and it delivers the right amount of multiplicity for its target audience without dumbing down.
The depth is added to by the short story Nicholas Sayre and The Creature in the Case, part of the collection Across the Wall, which explores the non-magic side of the world a bit more. There is more to say about this short story collection but I cannot give much as I haven’t read it in years and my copy is in storage.
While the series is exceedingly good, and remains in my favourites, the part that I absolutely adore is when Lirael gets to work in the Great Library. This section captured my imagination like nothing else seems to have done. Whether it is the secret doors and passages, the faithful Dog companion, the trials and temptations or just the mountains of books, The Great Library is where I wanted to be as a teen, the Disreputable Dog beside me.
The whole series is wonderful though. Sabriel, set some 15-20 years before Lirael and Abhorsen, while also following the story of a young woman learning her role in the world, has a romance element that Lirael/Abhorsen does not, and as the first in the series, is much less intense than the other two. Though I read Lirael first, and it is possible to skip Sabriel, it adds a huge component to the series. Sam, the other main character of the series, is headed down the same path Sabriel travels in her story, yet with bigger forces at play and completely different personalities it makes for an interesting comparison.
Both Sam and Sabriel are joined on their journey by Mogget, a companion cat shaped creature who adds humour and snark that leaves the reader wondering whose side he is on. As a big cat fan, I love any book with a talking feline and Mogget fills this role wonderfully.
Really, I don’t think there is anything not to love about this series. They are perfect holiday reads, if you are after something captivating but easier to read then I highly recommend popping them in your suitcase. You just might want to make sure that you have all three before jetting off.
The fifth installment in the Old Kingdom series, Goldenhand, is being released in October and is available for pre-order.
*this piece of shocking writing will never see the light of day. Not least because I started it as a fan fiction of a popular band of the time. I also only managed around 5000 words before realising it was not very good/terrible.