I read this book about when it came out in 1996 and then almost all of the subsequent books (they have diminishing returns, spoiler), but Sabriel is and will always be one of the best YA books in terms of character development, complex and ORIGINAL world building (gotta love them bells), and one of the best sidekicks ever: Mogget, a magical creature bound by a bell around his neck, who wonderfully balances the line as hilariously sassy friend and guide as well as possibly a more powerful and malevolent force than her actual enemies. Nix does a wonderful job throughout of creating what should be formulaic, trope characters — the animal sidekick, the somewhat buffoonish tag-along guy, the evil sorcerer — and gives them enough layers to grow and breathe beyond expectations. Sabriel herself is probably the most predictable aspect of the book: the typical reluctant Chosen One hero who must step up to fill the large shoes of a dead father and save the world. And yet she is daring and brave even when she’s afraid, kind and compassionate when needed and ruthless as well. She’s Harry Potter before Harry Potter existed, with character traits still rarely given to female leads. “Sabriel” is not without its flaws as a book — it needs more female background characters in general, there’s no plot reason for why Mogget had to be male, among other problems, including the inevitable, somewhat unearned romance — but it remains one of the best YA stories of all time and is definitely worth a read if you haven’t read it.
5-star (quick) review: Sabriel (Garth Nix)