OK. One last letter and we’re done …
So, here we are. I have to say I didn’t think things would end quite like this …
You’re not a believer in hanging around, I’ll give you that. Sure you take all that incredible world-deepening that Lirael worked so hard on, you even add a whole heap more, then you bring everything to the boil in real end-of-the-world style as you finally reveal what the Big Bad has been up to while the necromancer Hedge and his agent, Chlorr were distracting everybody.
At least you begin where Lirael left off, in the temporary refuge of Abhorsen’s House. I mean, OK, yes, you have Lirael and Sameth surrounded by the dead minions of Chlorr, but at least they’re in relative safety in the middle of the Ratterlin River.
And I do find Abhorsen’s House incredibly attractive. More so because none of you linger there long. And I suspect a lot of the attraction is that it is a protected, safe place in an otherwise sinister world. You surprised me a little, proving the House to be quite a bit bigger than I had first imagined it with Sabriel. There’s room for an orchard, kitchen, herb and rose gardens, and a paperwing landing platform. The house has three floors, and the tower holds a study and an observatory. It is peopled by a small army of magical ‘sendings’ who do all the work, from food preparation and laundry to house and grounds upkeep, which is probably the only slightly creepy thing about the place, (I have strong feelings about servants). It is a self-sufficient residence with or without its magical slaves however, and as I fantasized for much of my childhood about such a place, I am a little (a lot!) in love with it.
It is also where you give us our first clues as to the nature of the bells that both necromancers and the Abhorsen use, and the natures of Mogget and the Disreputable Dog. A lot of what you divulge about the character of the Charter and its beginnings, pulling together all those threads and strands belonging to your older sisters, could fill another volume at least.
You’re not one for letting anyone rest too long, however. Lirael and Sam have discovered their roles now, and while Sam is pathetically relieved to find he is not the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, I liked him much better once he was free of the immobilising fear he suffered in Lirael. Even while I could appreciate how traumatic his experience with Hedge had been I found it hard to like him, but I feel that that was the point Lirael was trying to make: people are at their best when doing what they’re good at/what they love. When we first met Sameth at the cricket match he was a confident, shining youth, and the confrontation with Hedge destroyed that boy. Sam could never go back to what he was before, but with a newfound purpose he can move forward now.
And for Sam, saving his Ancelsteirran school friend Nick from the clutches of Hedge and the Big Bad is the number one priority. Poor Nick. You give him a heck of a rough time. Not only does he not believe in magic of any kind, but he also happens to be possessed by a magical being. His predicament highlights one of the greatest things about you and your siblings, though. The interaction and contrast between the countries of Ancelsteirre and the Old Kingdom gives your stories so much of their energy. Neither place on its own is as interesting as the two existing in the same world. Ancelsteirre has got a kind of 1920s England sort of vibe with its girls’ and boys’ prep schools, and horse-drawn carts and early automobiles, but without the Wall (and its garrison of men forced into accepting that magic is a real threat) it’s a bit lack lustre. Likewise the Old Kingdom would be a little less interesting, just another pre-industrial fantasy setting, without Ancelsteirre right next door creating guns and cars and telephones only to find that these things don’t work close to the Wall, and in the Old Kingdom not at all. The frisson between the two is all important.
Ultimately what Lirael, Sam and the others are fighting for is relevant on both sides of the Wall. Death in and of itself is not a negative, but the false life after death of the possessed and the reanimated and their desperate clinging, clawing attempts to extend their existence beyond its natural span, threatens everyone, (because even if you don’t believe in magic, doesn’t mean – Nick – that it doesn’t believe in you). As your sisters did before you, you give the reader and the characters brief moments that remind us all what’s being fought for: sunlight and refuge, friendship and family, “Life” as Mogget succinctly puts it. I have only one criticism for Sabriel’s story and for Lirael’s and that is that neither woman gets to enjoy what they work so hard to save. It is implied, I guess, by Sameth and Ellimere’s existence that Sabriel has had some time at least to appreciate her life with Touchstone, but Lirael, who agonised that much more over her place in the world, is never given the page space to be embraced by her new found family. I hate those movies that don’t show people happy after they’ve survived a natural disaster or a stabby psychopathic killer, too, I need to know that all the struggle was worth it, you know? I know you can’t change your nature and I’m not asking you to, but I want you to understand why you’ll never quite be as dear to me as Lirael is.
And you ending near killed me. On the one hand, Mogget’s reason for weighing in and getting to see the Ninth Gate were beautiful moments. On the other, the cost was just too great, (and someone being brought back to Life didn’t make up for it either). I owe you an apology for the state of your last few pages, I haven’t cried that hard in quite a while.
I know I’ve criticised you, but for all that I am happy here, right now, having read the story you had to tell. If I never read another new word about the Old Kingdom, I will still cheerfully visit you again, if you’ll have me. Between Sabriel, Lirael and yourself it’s been a terrifying, funny, absorbing and deeply satisfying journey. Thank you.
“I have never known what to tell anybody. Except that it is better to do something than nothing, even if the cost is great.”
Sabriel in Abhorsen