I’d never thought too much of Goodreads’ recommendations, but I think Sabriel changed my mind. Goodreads categorizes recommendations based on shelves, and it thought I’d like Sabriel based on my Favorites shelf. (I’ve been using Goodreads for years to catalog what I’ve read, and I’m pretty picky with the Favorite’s shelf.) After The Castle of Crossed Destinies, I was kind of lost, and I felt like reading a book about the Desert, so I started Sunset over Chocolate Mountains, which I’d tried to read at least ten years ago but couldn’t finish. This time, I went to Boston in the middle of it, was distracted by Frank O’Hara for a bit, and kind of lost interest. Which is how I ended up browsing through Goodreads’ recommendations.
ANYWAY. Sabriel is a fantasy novel geared toward teenagers. I know. But it’s really not bad! There are no vampires involved: Sabriel is eighteen and has just graduated from a girls’ school in a place called Ancelstierre. She is from what’s called the Old Kingdom, where magic is the norm. Sabriel’s father is the Abhorsen, a necromancer who sends dead things to actual death (they’re kind of like zombies! but not). He disappears, and Sabriel goes on a quest to find him. Okay, I totally did not do this book justice here.
This isn’t a book like The Hunger Games where I say, “Why are teenagers allowed to read this?” It’s pretty kosher, except for a bit of an unnecessary sex scene as heard through a bathroom wall. I really don’t know why that’s in there. Or at least in so much detail.
I really liked this novel. The only problem I had with it is that the characters are a bit flat. There are three main characters: Sabriel, Touchstone (Sabriel finds him trapped in wood on a ship), and Mogget (a spirit trapped in the form of a cat). Sabriel is okay, and so, I guess, is Mogget, but Touchstone is too important a character to be flat, and I was annoyed for a good chunk of the novel because of it.
Otherwise, Sabriel is a good adventure story for when you’re a bit jaded, and you want a fast-paced, easy read. And it’s not too teenager-y since Sabriel doesn’t really have time to be angsty. And it’s the first novel in a series of three. A fourth is apparently coming out sometime next year. I’m not sure if I’m going to read the rest of them, but I have a feeling that I will.
The Hero and the Crown is Palmer‘s favorite kid-book, which is why I read it. I read The Blue Sword first because there was some confusion which of the two is actually his favorite. Here’s why: both were written by Robin McKinley, whowrote The Blue Sword first, but The Hero and the Crown is its prequel. I’m glad, though, that I (kind of) read them in the wrong order because The Hero and the Crown is so much better. I really, really enjoyed it.
This one’s about Aerin, daughter of the king of Damar. She’s a bit of an outsider because her mother was a commoner from the (evilish) North, and lots of the citizens consider her mother, now dead, a “witchwoman,” and think some sort of evil rubbed off on Aerin. Tor, a cousin, is slated to become king, and he is in love with Aerin, who keeps getting into trouble. She befriends and rehabilitates her father’s lame warhorse and investigates an ancient ointment that protects the wearer from fire, then runs off to fight dragons (which are about the size of dogs but much more dangerous). Her father is having problems with the Northerners, and while he goes off to battle, she kills the last of the giant dragons, Maur, and is seriously injured. As she lays in bed dying, she dreams about a silver lake and a blond-haired man who says he can help her. She musters her strength and makes it to the lake, where she meets Luthe, who saves her but also makes her “not quite mortal,” and once she is well, she travels to fight her uncle in a tall black tower. Then more stuff happens.
It appears that McKinley has taken care of some of her style issues that made The Blue Sword seem sooooo long. The Hero and the Crown flew by, and I found myself wishing there was more. There’s a scene about three-quarters through the book in which Aerin is climbing up an amazingly long flight of stairs, but we only find out later that it’s taken her thousands of years. McKinley made it seem like a couple hours. But there was less awkward language, and it was an easier, more pleasant read. I wish she’d write more in this series.
The Blue Sword seems much longer than it is. It’s a kids’ book that doesn’t read like a kids’ book. In fact, I’m kind of confused about why it’s even in the juvenile section of the library rather than, at least, the young adult section. Maybe it was the style that made me read it so slowly. Surprising longness aside, I really liked it. Robin McKinley is good at creating a whole world in a relatively short space.
The novel is about a girl from a normal-ish world who is thrust into a magical one in which she must learn to function and thrive. Corlath, king of the Hillfolk and guided by some kind of hereditary magic, kidnaps the girl, Harry, and takes her into the hills, which are threatened by the Northerners, who aren’t quite human. Turns out Harry is good at riding horses and fighting, and she has some of the magic, too. They eventually fight the Northerners. Things are more complicated than that, of course.
I read The Blue Sword because it’s one of Palmer‘s favorite kid-books, and, though he doesn’t seem to be too fond of them anymore (Harry Potter is a kids’ novel!), I see how he liked this one. It’s really engrossing. It’s one of those I’ll confuse with a movie. There was some confusion as to which Robin McKinley novel was actually his favorite. There’s a prequel to this one called The Hero and the Crown, but it was written after this one. It was supposedly going to be a whole series, but I guess that didn’t pan out. She talks a bit about it on her webpage:
The bottom line is, it isn’t my choice. You don’t write stories like you might build a bookcase. You don’t get up in the morning, decide that you’re going to put seven chapters together to make a novel, whip out your tape measure and decide how many words, order the paper by the square foot from the office supply shop, sit down and start stamping the pages with black ink in a quantifiable pattern, and polish off the rough edges with a sander at the end. It’s not up to you. You write what you are given to write, and you just go on hoping you will go on receiving those gifts. Damar hasn’t seen fit to oblige me to write about it lately.
All of this, of course, seems like corny crap to me. It’s funny how a photo of an author will immediately bias me for or against him or her. Robin McKinley reminds me of one of my high school teachers. It’s actually kind of creepy. She also loooooves horses. The author blurb on the back flap of the first edition of The Blue Sword says that “Robin McKinley lives at present on a horse farm in eastern Massachusetts where she divides her time between the fascinating occupants of the barn in the mornings and the tyranny of her typewriter in the afternoons.” She totally wrote that herself. What matters, though, is that I enjoyed her novel, and I’ll be reading the next one in the near future. I like to put a couple unrelated books between ones in a series.