‘Sabriel’ by Garth Nix


I’ve always adored tales of the undead. Looking back, I believe Garth Nix’s Sabriel is the point at which this fascination began.

Sabriel by Garth NixIn Nix’s world, a great Wall divides the Old Kingdom from the new. The modern world is dominated by technology; the Old, by magic. Sounds simplistic, and in a way it is. But actually, the protagonist’s underlying struggle to reconcile the two worlds – and her place in each of them – is far more than just ‘old vs new’, or even ‘good vs evil’.

(Besides: if it’s good enough for Neil Gaiman, it’s good enough for me.)

Sabriel herself embodies a mixture of the two. Raised in Ancelstierre (at what I can’t help but refer to as a ‘muggle’ college), Sabriel has an excellent command of Charter Magic, but her position as Abhorsen (banisher of the Dead) also means she has to use the reviled Free Magic of necromancy. Similarly, her companions Touchstone (a Charter mage) and Mogget (a Free Magic construct) both prove helpful in different ways.

I read and re-read (and re-re-read) Sabriel and the other Old Kingdom books a LOT during my younger years, last returning to it some time in my late teens (at least ten years ago). And, as with all nostalgic re-reads, I was apprehensive about potentially smashing my rose-tinted glasses and ruining all those fond memories of escaping from wet weekends in Wales into the world of Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom.

As it turns out, I had very little to fear. I’d forgotten that the setting of ‘modern’ Ancelstierre actually has more of a historical feel. Based as it is on the early decades of the twentieth century (with ‘new’ technology encompassing telephones, electric lights and tanks) there’s far less risk of it feeling dated than if the author had mentioned, say, MP3 players, or Gameboys. Given that much of the story is set in the Old Kingdom – the realm of magic, not science – this becomes even less of an issue than it might otherwise have been.

I did have one small gripe. Annoyingly, the e-book edition I read features intrusive little comments at the end of each chapter, i.e. extracts from an interview with the author. These extracts – ‘Garth on the Wall, ‘Garth on magic’, ‘Garth on creating characters’ – are insightful and all, but unfortunately they also do a stellar job of killing momentum and ruining the reader’s immersion.

Overall, however, I’m left feeling pleasantly surprised by how well Sabriel has stood the test of time. The Dead are suitably creepy, the action is tense and exciting, and the romance subplot is sweet – doesn’t intrude on the main story. And really: the premise itself leaves no doubt that Sabriel is and always will be a truly kickass read. A teenaged girl who has prematurely inherited the responsibility of protecting her kingdom from the Dead? Yes, please!

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NaNovember!


October has been ever so slightly crazy. I spent countless hours working on a short story in order to meet a submission deadline (which I did manage in the end – barely!). My ‘currently reading’ list is longer than ever before. NaNo is upon us. And the SPFBO has reached stage two!

SPFBO – Final 10!

We have our finalist!!!
Fantasy-Faction's SPFBO2 Finalist: Dyrk Ashton, Paternus

That’s right: earlier last month G.R. Matthews, A.F.E. Smith and myself announced Dyrk Ashton as our pick for Fantasy-Faction’s SPFBO finalist. Dyrk’s novel, Paternus, is a well-written and exciting tale of myths and monsters in modern-day society. We gave it a collective score of 9/10, and are proud to say that it 100% deserves its place amongst the final ten.

Speaking of which… here they are!

SPFBO 2016: the Final Ten!

Gorgeous-looking bunch, aren’t they? I’ve already begun reading Larcout, and I’m also particularly excited about Path of Flames, Assassin’s ChargeFionn and of course The Grey Bastards.

Not that I don’t have enough to read and review already… like:

Nothing is Ever Simple (Corin Hayes #2) by G.R. Matthews

Corin Hayes #1 and #2 by G.R. Matthews

A couple of days ago, my fellow indie writer (and Fantasy-Factioner!) G.R. Matthews released the long-awaited second book in his underwater SF series Corin Hayes. Here’s what I said about book one, Silent City:

Reader beware: if you suffer from thalassophobia (= fear of the sea), prepare to be chilled to the bone. . . because the world of Corin Hayes is entirely underwater.
[…] Short, entertaining and exciting: Silent City is the start of a series I’ll certainly be following with interest.

Read the full review on Goodreads or Amazon.

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

A bloody, uncomfortable, fascinating read. The first in Michael R. Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions series, Beyond Redemption pulls us into a world where anything is possible . . . so long as you’re insane. Dark, brutal and highly recommended.

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. FletcherYou can read my review on Fantasy-Faction. The sequel, The Mirror’s Truth, is due out in December.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Back in my late teens I read, re-read and re-re-read Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen) more times than I could count. The recent release of Goldenhand unleashed a flood of nostalgia, so much so that I couldn’t resist revisiting the series.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and after a decade away from the series I’m thoroughly enjoying dipping in and out of this one. Sabriel sparked fond memories of late-night reading right from page 1, and I’m looking forward to reaching book two, Lirael, which was always my favourite of the three.

On Writing by Stephen King

This is another book I’ve been dipping in and out of. As such, progress is slow, but I’m picking up snippets of wisdom every time I sit down to read a few pages.

On Writing by Stephen King

Anyone who knows me is aware of my love of metaphors (or, as some would say, ‘overthinking’). In one chapter, King compares writing to archaeology: the story is always there, like a fossil beneath the ground, and writers should use whatever tools necessary to bring it to light. He goes on to say that you wouldn’t start digging with a toothpick; you’d begin with a pickaxe or even a jackhammer, only bringing out the delicate tools when you’re ready to reveal the details.

For someone like me (whose writing process generally involves obsessive plotting, second-guessing and re-writing) this is very relevant . . . as is the part where King opines that plot is “the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”

Ouch. Point taken. Time to just get on with telling the story. Sound advice (and just in time for NaNoWriMo!)

ARC Happy Fun Times

Because I’m clearly a masochist, I’ve also taken on ARCs from a small selection of awesome authors.

The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher (FB header)

Michael R. Fletcher’s The Mirror’s Truth and John Gwynne’s Wrath are both currently adorning my Kindle, and I’m also lucky enough to have been offered an early copy of Red Sister from one of my favourite modern fantasy authors, Mark Lawrence. Positive reviews for this one have already begun trickling in, and I’m really, really excited to delve in to Mark’s new series, The Book of the Ancestor.

Malazan Art of the Fallen

You may have noticed my re-post of the Malazan article I had published on Tor.com in September. The re-post includes even more stunning art from the talented Chisomo Phiri (Shadaan on DeviantArt) and once again I’m encouraging anyone and everyone to go and check out his work.

'Silanah vs Raest': artwork by Shadaan

‘Silanah vs Raest’: artwork by Shadaan

On Righting

In October I ran two free promotions, most recently over Halloween. Danse Macabre now has another NINE (!) 4*/5* ratings and SIX (!) more reviews – as well as a place on its first ever LIST! (Angela Burkhead’s top Halloween reads for 2016).

Danse Macabre Free Promotion Graphic

Danse Macabre‘s success over the last few months has been a real confidence boost. Reading what folks are saying about it (including a recent review by Eric Fomley at Grimdark Alliance) inspires me to write more, which I think is part of the reason I worked so keenly on my short story submission last month. As such, I’ve made the (absolutely mad) decision to sign up for NaNoWriMo once again.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Participant Banner

In January this year I spoke about my ongoing struggles with depression; about why I closed down my original blog, and why I vowed not to bother with NaNo ever again.

After last year’s absolute failure (and its consequences) I’ll admit that the prospect of trying again terrifies me. But truth be told, I need a kick up the arse. This time, NaNo is going to be a tool with which I can hold myself accountable – not a means of quantifying failure.

So this year, I’m going to beat NaNo. Because I’ve made a promise to myself that this year I’m going to do it right. (Also that if I make it past 50k words by November 30th, I’m allowed to reward myself by finally starting a(nother) new game of Dragon Age: Inquisition.)

If anyone else is participating and wants to add me, you can find me here. Good luck to all, and see you on the other side!