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For the Khazar ruler who converted to Judaism, see Bulan (Khazar).
This article is about the book. For the character Sabriel herself, see Sabriel (character).

Sabriel is a fantasy novel by Garth Nix, first published in 1995. It is the first in his Old Kingdom trilogy, and is followed by Lirael and Abhorsen.

Plot introduction

The novel is set in two neighbouring fictional countries: To the south lies Ancelstierre, which has a technology level and society similar to that of early-20th century England, and to the north lies the Old Kingdom, where magic works and dangerous spirits roam the land — a fact officially denied by the government of Ancelstierre and disbelieved by most of Ancelstierre's inhabitants. (Those who live near the border know the truth of it, especially on days when the wind is blowing out of the Old Kingdom.) These dangerous spirits range from undead corpses known as Dead Hands to supernatural beings known as Free Magic elementals.

These living Dead are raised by Necromancers, or black magicians, who roam the Old Kingdom or live in Death, using Hands to do their bidding. To remedy the problem of dangerous, living dead, there is always a sorcerer with the title of Abhorsen, who is essentially a Necromancer himself (or herself), only in the reverse; he puts the dead to rest. At the time of Sabriel, it is her father, Terciel, who has the job of controlling the endless dead creatures doing evil deeds around the Wall, especially difficult since a new evil seems to be rising.

When the current Abhorsen is overcome by one such evil, he sends his bells and sword to his daughter Sabriel, who is being raised in an Ancelstierre school, out of reach of those who might try to strike at her father through her. She must return to the Old Kingdom to rescue her father and prevent the evil's return.

Plot summary

Sabriel is joined on her journey back to the Old Kingdom by an ancient Free Magic construct of unknown origin named Mogget. Mogget appears in the form of a white cat and is bound by a red Charter magic collar to serve the Abhorsen. Sabriel is told never to release Mogget's collar. Sabriel and Mogget take a craft known as a Paperwing to try to find her father. On the way, they are attacked by the Dead. The craft is wrecked, and in order to save herself, Sabriel releases Mogget. The cat reveals himself to be an incredibly powerful Free Magic elemental. It almost kills Sabriel, but she rebinds him with a ring she received from him a few hours before for just such a purpose.

Sabriel and Mogget then find themselves in the pit of Holehallow, the burial place of ancient royalty, where they come across and free their next companion, the mysterious Touchstone, who has been magically imprisoned as a wooden ship's figurehead for over two hundred years. He claims that he doesn't remember his past, or even his own name. At Mogget's suggestion, he asks to be called Touchstone, even though it is a jester's name, because he secretly remembers his failure to protect his family.

The three of them trek through the Old Kingdom in an attempt to find the Abhorsen. They find him in an underground reservoir in Belisaere, trapped in Death. Since he has stayed too long in Death, he cannot return for long, but with what little time he has left, the Abhorsen tells Sabriel about the evil known as Kerrigor. Kerrigor has risen far from Death and intends to wreak havoc in the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre. Sabriel releases her father from Death, and once they emerge from Death, father and daughter part for the last time — he, to ring the bell Astarael and delay Kerrigor's havoc; and she, to save Touchstone by bringing him (and herself) as far away from Astarael's music as possible. In the process of ringing Astarael, Sabriel's father releases Mogget.

They succeed, but as long as Kerrigor's body is intact, he will rise from Death again and again. Sabriel and Touchstone use another Paperwing to bring them as close to the Wall as possible, and cross over to Ancelstierre to find Kerrigor's body, following the clairvoyant guidance of the Clayr twins Sanar and Ryelle. They find the body, and Sabriel finally defeats Kerrigor by binding him with Ranna and Mogget's collar.

She dies but the previous Abhorsens prevent her from crossing into Final Death as she cannot die without someone else to take her place as Abhorsen. She wakes up with Touchstone before her, and both Mogget and Kerrigor asleep, bound by Ranna.

Important Characters/Magical Entities

The Bloodlines

Thousands of years ago, seven of the Nine Bright Shiners sacrificed their powers to create the Charter: a combination of powerful objects (the Great Stones and the Wall) and three magic blood lines, known as the Abhorsen, the Clayr and the Royal Family. Five of the Seven completely lost themselves (one in each object or blood line) while two remained somewhat independent. One invested his/her power in the Royal bloodline, one in the Abhorsen's and one in the Clayr's (which is why the Clayr greet Sabriel as "cousin"). The remaining two, known as the "Wallmakers" invested themselves in several objects of power, including the Stones and Wall, then disappeared. These artifacts, the Charter Stones, are sources of the web of Charter magic that maintains peace and order over the kingdom. The Bloodlines all have a higher concentration of strong Charter mages than the general populace.

The Abhorsens
Main article: Abhorsen (office)

One of the most respected figures in the Old Kingdom, the Abhorsen uses both the dangerous Free Magic-based powers of a necromancer and the benevolent magic of the Charter to keep the gates of Death against the return of Dead spirits back into Life. Sabriel and her father are members of the Abhorsen family. They use the bells, named after the seven bright shiners that established the old kingdom, in tandem with their natural affinity with Death, granted by their ancestor bright shiner, to amplify their powers. The bells, smallest to largest, are Ranna, Mosrael, Kibeth, Dyrim, Belgaer, Saraneth, and Astarael. Saraneth, the "binder", is thought to be the original Abhorsen, and the bright shiner who invested her powers in this bloodline. Her gift is "binding", just as the Abhorsens job is to "bind" the dead to Death. Ranna is the "sleeper", causing listeners to fall asleep; she is the least tricksome. Mosrael, "waker", wakes the dead, bringing them into life as it throws the necromancer farther into death. Kibeth, "walker", forces the dead to march back into death, or wherever the ringer desires, although if the ringer is not careful it may end up "walking" her. Dyrim is the "speaker", granting the ability of speech to the dead, or taking it away. Belgaer is the "thinker" and can restore independent thought to the dead and resurrect old memories, but can also erase unwanted memories. Astarael is the "weeper". Last and final of the bells, she sends all who hear her, including the ringer, deep into death. It is almost impossible to return after hearing Astarael. Like all three bloodlines, the Abhorsen bloodline not only defines their job (the Abhorsen may only be chosen from direct blood relatives) and grants them their powers, but also determines their appearance. All members of the Abhorsen family have black hair and their skin is unnaturally pale. Among the families guarding the Old Kingdom from disaster, and the only family guarding it from disasters from Death, Abhorsens are unique in their ability to sense Death. They are able to identify undead creatures and differentiate them from the living, and cross over into Death to fight undead minions there and banish them to a final death. They are also the only ones who have the proper authority to enter Death, and therefore the only Necromancers who retain uncorrupted charter marks and mage powers. Their symbol is a silver key on a background of blue.

The Royal Family

For centuries, the royalty justly ruled the Old Kingdom from their palace at the capital Belisaere as powerful upholders of the peace, until their fall by the hands of Kerrigor, or Prince Rogir nicknamed Rogirrek, a rogue member of the royal family who killed his sisters and mother to use their blood to break the Great Charter Stones. The Kingdom now suffers from their 200 year absence. Unlike the Abhorsens, the Royalty cannot cross into Death at will and do not usually use Free Magic. Their specialty lies in diplomacy and Charter magic. They are connected to the Clayr and Abhorsens in that they're a Great Charter. It is thought they are descended from Dyrim, the "speaker", because of their skill in diplomacy. Their symbol is a golden tower on a sea of red.

The Clayr
Main article: Clayr

The largest family among the magical bloodlines, the Clayr are arbiters of justice and foresight who see all from their glacier in the northernmost parts of the Old Kingdom. The Clayr are a family of seers who may, when there is need, pool their powers together to see clear visions of the future, while individually they see only splinters. The Clayr also possess powerful abilities in Charter Magic, similar to the Royal Family. They are descended from Mosrael, the "waker". The Clayr celebrate the young's "awakening" of their sight when they receive their first vision. Like the Abhorsen, the Clayr have a strong family resemblance. All daughters of the Clayr (and they have almost no sons, if indeed any) have tan skin and blonde, almost white, hair. The Glacier of the Clayr is home to a great library, as well, which is a repository of magic and history, and is even used as "cold storage" for particularly dangerous, but immortal, creatures. Their symbol is a seven pointed star.

The Wallmakers
Main article: Wallmakers

The Wallmakers were the builders of the Wall that divides the Old Kingdom from Ancelstriere and creators of the Charter Stones; people particularly skilled in the creation of magical objects. They created the weaponry of the Royal Family (such as the twin swords wielded by Touchstone), the ceramic, nearly impervious armor known as Gethre owned by the Abhorsens, the Abhorsen's sword, and other extremely magical objects and weapons possessed by the Clayr. It can be deduced that they were the last 2 bright shiners, Ranna and Belgaer. They invested all of their power in their creations, thus leaving no bloodline. Therefore, for the majority of the books, it is apparent that the Wallmakers are 'extinct' and no longer exist. By the end of Lirael and for the whole of Abhorsen, we find out that the Wallmaker bloodline has been reconstitued in Prince Sameth, explaining his uncanny ability to create magical "toys" and enchant weaponry, which otherwise would 'take months' to do. The line was probably brought back for the sole purpose of defeating Orannis. The symbol of the Wallmaker is a silver trowel or spade.

The Dead And Free Magic Creatures

Mordicant: One of the Greater Dead. It is created by a necromancer by molding human blood, Free Magic, and a Dead spirit. It can pass from Life to Death at will. It is described as manlike, with eyes like fire, and grey-green flesh that dripped with flames and smoke. Sabriel defeated a weak Mordicant when she was fourteen years old. However, a very strong one pursued Sabriel through the door in the long cliffs and almost across Abhorsen's Bridge. There it led Shadow hands and living human slaves to cross Abhorsen's Bridge until Sabriel called on the Clayr's gift of water, which caused it to flee.

Thralk: A dead spirit that slipped out of Death after the commotion Kerrigor caused in breaking through all the gates single-handedly. It stayed in Life for decades, feeding off humans. It found Sabriel in Life on Cloven Crest while she was in Death, though surrounded by a diamond of protection. Sabriel sensed when the creature broke through her protection, and banished it to death with the Abhorsen's sword and the bell Kibeth. Thralk died when a hunting javelin rebounded off a rock and cut his throat. Touchstone said that his father died in a hunting accident. This makes it possible that Thralk is the re-animated father of Touchstone. However, in Sabriel, it states that Thralk had been struggling in death for three-hundred years, and Touchstone's imprisonment was for two hundred years, so the issue is unresolved.

Shadow Hands: Dead creatures controlled and created by a necromancer. Usually a skilled necromancer uses the heads of dead humans to bring back only their spirits, forming the inconsistent, dark and dangerous substance that is a Shadow Hand. Having no corporeal form, Shadow Hands cannot be stopped by mere force but can be forced back into Death by the bells of a necromancer. Sabriel suspects a necromancer of having formed Shadow Hands from the soldiers close to Cloven Crest. They attack Wyverly College after the Dead Hands are defeated by the soldiers and while Sabriel attempted to destroy Rogirrek (Rogir)/Kerrigor's body.

Dead Hands: Corpses raised by a necromancer to do his bidding. They can be defeated by force, although with difficulty, since the magic in them keeps their limbs and flesh strangely intact. A horde of Dead Hands attack Wyverly College at the end of the book, but are defeated by the soldiers.

Mordaut: One of the weaker Free Magic creatures, a parasite. It cohabits a human body, controlling and hiding in it, and slowly saps the life from it. It comes out at night and takes the life of any other human around it, but returns to its host after feeding. It has no definite form and moves like a pool of darkness. Sabriel encounters a Mordaut on the island of Nestowe, inhabiting the body of a fisherman named Patar. Once she sensed and nearly put it to sleep with Ranna, the Mordaut burst out and killed Patar. However, Touchstone stabbed it with his ensorcelled swords and Sabriel was able to banish it using the bells Saraneth (the Binder), Ranna (the Sleepbringer), and Kibeth (the Walker).

Gore Crows: Ordinary crows trapped, killed with a ritual, and infused with a single human spirit by a necromancer. They disintegrate in the sun and wind, and if one makes contact with running water, all its counterparts will be forced back to Death as well. The fewer crows share the human spirit, the stronger they are, but they kill by strength of numbers. They fly seemingly without the use of wings or plumage and are easily suspended by the Free Magic that was used to create them. A horde of gore crows attacks Sabriel when she is flying in the Paperwing after escaping from Abhorsen's house.

Characters in Sabriel

  • Sabriel — Title character. 53rd Abhorsen.
  • Mogget — an ancient Free Magic construct of unknown origin; appears in the form of a white cat and is bound by a red Charter magic collar to serve the Abhorsen.
  • Touchstone — a bastard prince, son of a former Queen and a nobleman, and is the only remaining heir of the Royal Blood. He was trapped as the wooden figurehead of a ceremonial boat for two hundred years by the Abhorsen of that time in order to save him (and his Blood) from death. Sabriel's love interest as the story progresses.
  • Kerrigor — Formerly known as Rogir, or Rogirek. A Greater Dead adept and former member of the Royal Family, who is at odds with the Abhorsens of the past for many years now; previously bound in Death by Sabriel's father, but released once again due to the fact that his body lies safe in Ancelstierre. The name Kerrigor, as is revealed by Touchstone, was a childhood nickname, made up by the royal prince himself. It is derived from his full ceremonial name, Rogirek.
  • Terciel (known as "Abhorsen") — Sabriel's father, Abhorsen before Sabriel.

Major themes

This book deals with the loss of family (Sabriel's and Touchstone's) and coming to terms with oneself and one's responsibilities. Abhorsen's final words to Sabriel, "Everyone and everything has a time to die," refer to the idea of sacrifice. Another theme is that of destiny. Both the Book of the Dead and Sabriel's almanac contain the lines:

Does the Walker choose the Path, or the Path the Walker?

The book departs from the conventional form of fantasy in its resolution not to allude to the stereotypes of the genre. Death is not considered a bad thing as such, and loss is shown to be something that builds character. It also lacks a normal fantasy's sheer cast list, of which there are typically hundreds of incidental characters and many hero-helpers.


Sabriel won the Aurealis Award for best young-adult novel and best fantasy novel in 1995.[1] It is also an ALA Notable Book and was a short-list nominee for the 1996 Ditmar Award for best long fiction.[2]


According to Publishing News, Garth Nix is preparing to pitch a Sabriel film to studios in mid-2008 via Steve Fisher at APA. Nix is co-writing the screenplay with Dan Futterman, actor and Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Capote, and Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner at Plan B Entertainment will produce. The director will be Anand Tucker. Planning for the pitch was delayed by the writer's strike last autumn, and resumed in February.[3]


  1. "Aurealis Awards: 1995 Shortlist and Winners". Chimaera Publications. 2004. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  2. "The Locus Index to SF Awards: 1996 Ditmar Awards". Locus Online. Retrieved 2010-01-20. 
  3. "Nix to pitch Sabriel film package for Hollywood". Publishing News. 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-06. 

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