Book review

Abhorsen by Garth Nix (2003)

Part three of the Old Kingdom trilogy

If you visit the Old Kingdom you will soon feel the power of the Charter all around you. Without the Charter you would be at the mercy of the Free Magic elementals. They are dangerous beyond imagining, preying on Life from beyond the borders of Death.

So, what is the Charter? It's a pool of constructive power that the Charter mages can draw upon when they cast their spells. Spells of healing, protection, summoning and support. And a really gifted Charter mage can cast boundaries and wards to control the malevolence of Free Magic. That's what an Abhorsen does. She carries the bells of a necromancer into Death to quell and bind the restless spirits in Death and prevent them from passing into Life to prey on the living.

Well, it's not the kind of job description that anyone can just pick up and have a go at. You have to be born to it, and we know now, for sure, that Lirael is born to it. What we don't know for sure is whether she has realized in time what her true calling is. Nor do we know whether she has the power and self-confidence to do what is asked of her. And Lirael isn't the only one who is called to perform a duty that may be beyond her. Sameth, the young Prince of the Old Kingdom, must cast around for his own place in the order of things. For if he is not to be the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, who or what is he?

Hmm. It will take you a while to work out who or what Moggett and the Disreputable Dog actually are too:

The Dog did not say anything more, and Moggett just kept staring at the letters.
'How can we defeat something like that?' burst out Lirael. 'I'm not even a proper Abhorsen yet!'
Sam shook his head as she spoke, but whether it was in negation or agreement, Lirael couldn't tell. He kept on shaking it, and she realised it was simply that he couldn't fully grasp what the Dog had told them.
'It is still bound,' said the Dog gently ...
'Why didn't you tell me this before!'
'Because you were not strong enough in yourself,' explained the Dog. 'You did not know who you are. Now you do and you are ready to know fully what we face. Besides, I was not sure myself until I saw the lightning storm.'
'I knew,' said Moggett. He stood up and stretched out to a surprising length before sitting back and inspecting his right paw. 'Ages ago.'
The Dog wrinkled her nose in obvious disbelief and kept talking.

I think you'll love the characters in this story. They're full of human self-doubt, and they get scared in the frightening bits and grumpy when they're tired.

Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

It's a trilogy. Furthermore, the third book is really the second half of the story that starts in Lirael, so read them in order!

I love venturing into different worlds, especially worlds where magic is unbounded. If you do too, perhaps you might like to look at the Earthsea sequence by Ursula le Guin:

Or you could look at the Snow-Walker trilogy by Catherine Fisher, which is set in a kind of Viking world of trolls and demons:

Or perhaps, if you haven't already read it, you might enjoy Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy:

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