Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Lately, I’ve been reading young-adult literature (YAL) of types that didn’t exist when I was a kid. This has mainly meant stories with female action heroes. I really liked the Sterkharm Handshake (the first 50 pages are a tad slow, but it’s great after that). Sabriel and its successors, officially dubbed The Old Kingdom Series, are good too.

I like fantasy that has a cosmology behind it. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings have an explanation of a moral and cosmic order. They are essentially kinds of myth creation, planned for the purposes of young-adult literature. The Harry Potter books lack a cosmological theme.

Sabriel has that. The magic has roots in the creation of the universe; there’s an explanation of how order came from chaos.

A principal theme of The Old Kingdom series is death. It tends to be a principle theme of much modern myth-inventing, but in a simplistic way. Typically, fantasy is based on a struggle betweeen good and evil; good is represented by life and love, while hate and death stand in for evil. These books by Garth Nix are a little different. The protagonist is a necromancer, a sorcerer of the dead. Necromancers are universally evil in literature; Voldemort is a necromancer, for instance.

In Sabriel, necromancers can be evil, but they are also good. They send zombies into death (where they belong). They maintain the order of life by preserving death as a natural part of it. This is a somewhat unusual, and nice, way to treat death in youth literature. Death is not equated with evil, but considered a natural part of life.

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