It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Not that I didn’t want to revisit you before, it’s just … well, you know how it is … time ran away with me. Only now have I realised that it’s been twenty years since I last read you! We were completely different people then. And yet you have bewitched me all over again so easily …
I had forgotten what an intense story you are. Casual readers need not apply, eh? From that first dead creature shuffling and dragging itself through one of the dormitories in Wyverley College (for Young Ladies of Quality), you clamp down hard on the reader and don’t let go until those last few breathless sentences. Perhaps, with the inevitable softening of time, I didn’t quite remember how terrifying I found the Mordicant, but you soon reminded me. Certainly, I had completely forgotten about Touchstone’s curious imprisonment and the secrets that he carried, until I read it all again. I hadn’t quite forgotten Mogget’s tricksy nature though. Funny, the things that stick, isn’t it?
What impressed me most the first time we met, and maybe even more so this time round, is how real your world seems. The dual creation of the magic-less, vaguely recognisable Ancelsteirre and its magic-filled neighbour the Old Kingdom is not only enchanting, but alive with detail. I love the slight mismatch of time and season between the two, as if one of the two countries sits askew in time and space: early evening in Ancelsteirre is already full night in the Old Kingdom, with no bleed between the two at their dividing line of the Wall; and while some of the same star constellations are shared between the two sides of the border, those constellations don’t correspond to quite the same positions of the compass. I love, too, that magic only trickles across into Ancelsteirre close to the Wall, and that their early 20th Century level technology fails when it comes into contact with this magic seepage. I love that the forces garrisoned at the Wall to control the traffic between the two places and defend Ancelsteirre from any roaming Old Kingdom creatures, are armed with a mix of guns and swords, regulation uniform and chainmail, and that some are Charter Mages, despite none of the peculiarities of life near the Wall being officially recognised by their superiors in the mundane southern regions.
And your magic! If I hadn’t already fallen in love with your world, I’d probably have fallen for your magic-system. I hope, when I read your sister volumes, to learn more about the Charter Magic that runs through every part of your Old Kingdom, both describing and binding everything in existence, without beginning or end. It seems to work like a language, a Charter symbol for every item, desire, creature and intention, to be learned, to be plucked out of the ethereal Charter and worked together into threads and ribbons that define the aims of the magic-worker. Something that requires both study and intuition to wield. I have so many questions: who made the Charter in the first place? And why? And perhaps most importantly, where does the magic in this world spring from? It eventually stops working on the other side of the Wall, which suggests it has bounds. And the broken Charter Stones make it weaker and unpredictable, so it has limits in this way too. Away from these things it is consistent, however, so is it self-replenishing? That is how I’ve chosen to view it for now.
Yes, I could wallow quite happily in such a world.
If you’d let me.
Instead you seemed intent on keeping me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. Perhaps it was your mischievous sense of humour at work, but just when I started to look about me and admire the scenery, thinking we were going to settle for a while, you had poor exhausted Sabriel up and off again. I wanted to explore Abhorsen’s House so much! And after that you didn’t even pretend that anywhere else in your world was safe: the Gore Crows were creepy, the Mordaut in Nestowe gave me the shudders, and the scavengers and the Dead infesting the city of Belisaere almost had me at the end of my tether. When were you going to let up? What chance did Sabriel and Touchstone stand against such odds?
And yet …
And yet, ultimately, your message is one of hope. No matter how unprepared a person may feel, you said, no matter how great the difficulties ahead, what matters most is that that person tries. Strives with all they have to do what they think is right. It’s a killer ending you’ve got there (I’d forgotten about that, too), but it left me with so many feelings: relief, sorrow, a peculiar sense of comfort, and maybe a smidgen of trepidation because Sabriel still has so much ahead of her and her work is only just begun.
Thank you for waiting for me Sabriel. I’m sorry I left it so long. I’m moving straight onto Lirael now you’ll be pleased to know and I shall pass on your regards.
With great affection
PS On a more personal note, and I hope I don’t embarrass you by mentioning this, but I love your font. It’s the first thing I remembered when I picked you up the other day. Not your title font, beautifully calligraphic as it is, but the font your … ahem … main content is printed in. There’s just something about it that makes me think of spell books and old, dusty libraries. I don’t think I’ve seen it anywhere else. It’s really quite charming. But I see that I’ve made you blush …
PPS We have Calmgrove to thank for our reunion. He gave me a much-needed nudge at just the right time. Without that it’s possible you’d still be on the pile, so be sure to thank him when you see him next.
(PPS The letter format for this post was shamelessly stolen from the author Annie Spence. I recently read her book Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-up Notes to Her Books which made me howl with laughter. Well worth a read).