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Literature: Old Kingdom

"Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?"
The Book of the Dead

"Your work?" asked the man, shivering a little, though it was no longer cold.
"Yes," said Abhorsen. "I am a necromancer, but not of the common kind. Where others of the art raise the Dead, I lay them back to rest. And those that will not rest, I bind. Or try to. I am Abhorsen."
— from the first chapter of Sabriel

A young adult fantasy series by Garth Nix consisting of three volumes — Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen — plus at least one novella, "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case" (appears in Across The Wall, a collection of short fiction), a sequel of sorts to the trilogy. A prequel — Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen — is set for October 2014, and an unnamed sequel for some time after that.

Set in a world sharply divided into the Old Kingdom, where magic rules, and the Southern Nations, where science is law, the Old Kingdom series revolves mostly around the conflict between two varieties of magic — Charter and Free, which correspond roughly to the traditional alignments of Law and Chaos. Charter magic is defined by the Charter, a runic language, which gives structure and purpose to sorcery to make it a beneficial and constructive force; Free magic is wild, uncontrolled and given to corruption and wanton destruction. Poised between the two is the Abhorsen, who partakes of both to defend the people of the Charter from the undead and other monsters that Free magic and its servants spawn in order to work their wills.

The first book tells the story of Sabriel, daughter of the Abhorsen, who discovers that since something bad has happened to her father, she must protect the world from the hordes of undead that threaten it. The second and third are set some years later and follow several protagonists - eponymous Lirael, a librarian, and Sam, Sabriel's son - as they attempt to prevent a great evil from escaping its prison.

Although parts of the setting bear a superficial similarity to the "stock" medieval fantasy, Nix quickly heads off into new territory, bringing a unique and different flavor to what might have otherwise been yet another fantasy Cliché Storm. The magic systems used in the book are radically different from the expected and contribute signficantly to its originality. One of the more interesting touches is the presence of the more advanced technological lands to the south of the Old Kingdom — in particular Ancelstierre, home to many of the characters, which comes across much like England circa 1910-1920.

This series provides examples of:

  • Afterlife Antechamber: Death is like a river running through a series of caves, called Precincts, the last of which opens out under what looks like, but isn't, a sky full of stars. That's as far as any character goes; anybody who goes on from there never comes back. Undead raised by necromancers are always souls from within the caves, either because they died recently and hadn't finished the journey or because they deliberately lingered in one of the caves in hope of finding a way back to the land of the living.
  • Agent Scully: Nicholas Sayre thinks his best friend's obvious magic is just showing off, and other obvious signs of magic are superstition. In Nick's defense, his brain was operating rationally on the subject until Hedge planted a shard of the Destroyer's prison in his heart. Also, Nick admits to the existence of functional magic, having confronted and killed honest-to-god zombies, but he believes that there is a scientific explanation behind the usage of magic. Though when he is feverish, later on, he discounts many of the very real dangers of The Old Kingdom as superstition.
  • Allergic to Evil: Free Magic has this effect on people, and broken Charter Stones induce extreme nausea in Charter mages.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Dead, who even when not affiliated under a necromancer will kill anything that moves, if only to eat their life force. Being a walking and animated sin against the cosmic order will do that to a person. Free-willed Dead are more selfish and cowardly than anything else, willing to eat life force and kill people rather than truly die.
  • Always Female: The Clayr are almost always women, though it's mentioned there are a few males.
  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Since the fall of the royal family, the Old Kingdom has been steadily sliding into chaos as the years go by, since the very existence of the family is necessary to the health of the kingdom. It turns out that Kerrigor was actively managing the chaos in order to weaken the Charter and make himself more powerful—he may never have proclaimed himself King, but after the last regent died it's clear just who was the dominant force in the Old Kingdom.
  • Apocalypse How:
    • It's suggested that a Class 1 (Large-Scale Civilization Disruption) happened north of the Wall two hundred years before the story opens, in response to Kerrigor's assassination of the royal family, and his armies of Dead ravaging the land.
    • In Lirael, Class 5 (Planetary Extinction) is the Sealed Evil in a Can's goal.
  • Arc Words: "Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?"
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Touchstone is revealed to be the last surviving member of the royal family, a bastard son of the Queen, and so in eighteen years, not only are he and Sabriel happily married, they're king and queen as well.
  • Badass Bandolier: Used by Abhorsens and necromancers to carry their bells.
  • Badass Bookworm:
    • In the first book, Sabriel is at the top of her class in every subject, most notably Swordfighting and Magic (with Music close behind), and, while well-liked, certainly gives very little indication to her school friends of her real powers.
    • Lirael is a much more extreme example. Aside from being the Second Assistant Librarian, her secret after-hours activities regularly include awakening horrible Free Magic creatures locked in the deepest dungeons of the library, and destroying them with the help of the Disreputable Dog.
    • Hell, anyone working at the Clayr's library pretty much has to be. Librarians are given magical daggers on first recruitment, and are instructed to attach whistles to their lapels so they can call for help if they can't use their arms. Or if their arms are no longer attached.
  • Badass Family: The Abhorsens, the royal family, and the Clayr.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: The Abhorsens have the same abilities as necromancers, namely those of awakening and otherwise controlling dead bodies and spirits. The Abhorsens' bells, however, are fired through with Charter Magic, hence their commitment and ability to keep the Dead journeying down the river of death.
  • Bald Women: Gullaine, the Captain of the Royal Guard, has no hair on her head at all, including eyebrows. Clariel doesn't notice at first since she's wearing a helmet but definitely does the second time they meet and she's bare-headed.
  • The Berserker:
    • Touchstone, when he's pushed to the edge. This is a result of his father having been a warrior from the North.
    • This ability passes down to his son, Sameth.
    • Clariel also has this as well as her mother Jaciel It is said to be common among the royal blood-line.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The arrival of Sabriel, Touchstone, Ellimere, Sanar, and Ryelle when Sam and the army are holding off the dead near the end of Abhorsen.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: "Think of Life!" from Sabriel. Set between the showdown in the reservoir and Touchstone's berserker rage, this is Sabriel and Touchstone's First Kiss. Epic enough to resist the power of Astarael, the Weeper, which sends all who hear it into Death.
  • Big Fancy House: Abhorsen's House is a very comfortable manor which is fortified to withstand attacks from the Dead.
  • Blinding Bangs: When she's feeling particularly depressed and unsociable, Lirael is prone to hiding behind her hair so she doesn't have to look people in the eyes.
  • Blood Magic: Breaking or mending or making a Charter Stone requires Charter Mage blood, for the Great Stones, it needs royal, Abhorsen, or Clayr blood.
  • Brilliant but Lazy: From the second book onward, Mogget, though very knowledgeable and powerful, spends most of his time snoozing, rousing only to snark his "companions" or in life-and-death (or Life-and-Death) situations. Supposedly, this is because his Restraining Bolt binds him with the power of Ranna, "the Sleeper", though it's heavily implied numerous times that he chooses when to obey. In the first book, he has no such excuse, but is still a lazy, unhelpful git; though, to his credit, he does always help out when the chips are down.
  • Callback:
    • At the very start of the first book, Sabriel's father sees to it that his (apparently) dead newborn daughter is baptized in the Charter, to preserve her spirit. At the very end of the last book, the Disreputable Dog does the same thing for Nick, and sends him back to life.
    • In the first book, Sabriel insists on being referred to by her name, rather than the title she feels is still her father's. In Abhorsen, she does the same when Lirael refers to her as The Abhorsen.
  • Call to Adventure:
    • Sabriel gets hers when a messenger from her father delivers her the Abhorsen's sword and bells, a sign that something is wrong.
    • Lirael's comes from the Clayr, seeing her on the Red Lake sometime during the coming summer (and in a way, the Disreputable Dog is a walking, talking Call to Adventure.)
  • The Call Put Me On Hold: Lirael. Usually by the time a Clayr is fourteen, she has gained the power of the Sight and is considered an adult. Lirael, however, reaches nineteen without even a glimmer of precognition. She never does develop precognition; instead, she receives a different Call, from her father's side, and becomes the Abhorsen-in-Waiting.
  • Cannot Cross Running Water: The Dead and most Free Magic creatures can't cross running water (unless it's bridged with boxes of grave dirt), and at least some of them are harmed by rain.
  • Catch Phrase: "Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?" for pretty much anyone associated with the Abhorsens.
  • Cats Are Magic: Mogget, the sarcastic, fish-demanding, white feline servant of the Abhorsens who is actually Yrael, one of the Nine Bright Shiners, and a free magic creature, bound by a ring. Kerrigor is bound along with Mogget by the same ring and becomes a sleeping black cat, though he is also imprisoned by additional means.
  • Cats Are Mean: Mogget, who qualifies for one of the meanest beings in the Old Kingdom.
  • Cats Are Snarkers: Mogget
  • Cat Scare: There are at least two occasions when Sam hears something in the grass, freaks out, and draws his sword and it turns out to be Mogget.
  • Changing of the Guard: The main character of the first book is Sabriel, and the story focuses on her first quest as Abhorsen. In the second and third books, set 18 years later, Sabriel is offstage for most of the story; the story focuses in part on her son Sam who is in training to be the next Abhorsen himself. The trope is played with in that he is obviously desperately unqualified to be an Abhorsen and then perhaps double-subverted, in that the other main character turns out to be Sabriel's long-lost half-sister, and she becomes the next Abhorsen.
  • The Chosen One: The Abhorsen, responsible for making The Undead Deader Than Dead.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Charter marks glow golden, while Free Magic is white electrical fire, and necromancy often features red flames. Additionally, the Dead usually have blackened flesh.
  • Color-Coded Patrician: The royal house has red and gold as their heraldic colors, the Clayr have green and silver, and the Abhorsen family uses blue and silver.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: For the title characters and for Sameth as well.
  • The Corruption: This is what happens to dead spirits that decide they don't want to travel up any farther past the River of Death. Also an explicit consequence, even for the living, for tarrying in Death (only necromancers and the Abhorsen know how to avoid these pitfalls).
  • Cosmic Keystone: The Great Charter Stones. When Kerrigor broke some of them, it made things difficult for a while.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: There are all these hints thrown in around the wider world around and in the Old Kingdom.
  • Dark Is Evil and Dark Is Not Evil: The same magic is wielded by both the antagonists and the protagonists—the heroes just balance it with relatively good magic.
  • Dark-Skinned Blond: The Clayr.
  • Deader Than Dead: Spirits can be pulled back from the River of Death, but if they're far enough along, the current becomes too strong and recovery becomes impossible. In particular, nothing can resist the call of the Ninth Gate if it's their time to die.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mogget, in spades.
  • Death by Childbirth: The first book opens with Sabriel's mother dying after giving birth to her.
  • Derelict Graveyard: Sabriel, in the first book, lands her Paperwing in a very unique one: the underground and enchanted grotto full of the burial ships of kings. As such, there's nothing harmful lurking there, but she does find a Human Popsicle that needs rescuing while she's there.
  • The Determinator: Frequently, it is Sabriel and Lirael's willpower that allows them to persevere against the forces of the Dead.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The end of Abhorsen, for the Eight that bind the Destroyer again.
  • Divided for Publication: Basically Lirael and Abhosen are one story, having been written as one story, but after getting past the half way point Garth Nix realised it was getting way, way too long for a single young-adult-aimed fantasy novel and split it in half.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: There are two metallic hemispheres, explicitly described as denser than gold. Even when divided, they emanate harmful energy. When forced together, they explode in blinding light, flash-incinerating everything within 10 miles and raising a towering, mushroom-shaped cloud.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: "Everyone and everything has a time to die."
  • Door Stopper: Lirael is around 700 pages long. Since it was Divided for Publication, along with Abhorsen, the full story is over 1000 pages.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: The Abhorsens. Sabriel (and her father) are described as having "deathly white" skin, "night-black hair" and black eyes, and Lirael is described similarly, with "white skin... dark eyes and even darker hair". The abnormal pallor of Sabriel's skin is implied to have been caused by travelling through Death, although this doesn't really explain Lirael.
  • The Dragon:
    • Hedge in the third book. At first he appears to be the Big Bad, but it turns out he... well, isn't. Chlorr is pretty much his Dragon, though.
    • In Clariel, Aronzo is this to his father.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Most of the Free Magic beasties, with some of the more powerful Dead shading into it as well. Orannis is somewhere between this and Planet Eater.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Touchstone. Mogget gives him the name, and Touchstone finds it quite annoying, (it's a fool's name) — yet he can't argue with it.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Touchstone, and his kilt. Squee.
  • Eternal Recurrence: Lirael discovers in Abhorsen that the world has been destroyed and remade seven times in the past.note 
  • Et Tu, Brute?: "Why, Yrael? Why?"
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Sabriel was rather surprised to find out that Abhorsen was not actually her father's name, but instead his title.note 
  • Evil Is Hammy: Kerrigor. Performed in the audio books all his scenery chewing glory by Tim Curry.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Chlorr. "Oh, I hear there's an ancient and mysterious force of evil near the Red Lake! I shall go grab it, since there's obviously no way it could outclass me!"
  • Evil Gloating: Played with (its a case of Evil Versus Evil)—after Yrael makes his choice, he proceeds to tell the big bad, an omnicidal maniac who hates life, why. He does so in an incredibly poetic and smug way.
  • Extradimensional Shortcut: The first of Death's precincts is different to the others in that its outer edge touches Life, so lateral movement has meaning. Dead willing and able to resist the river can walk along the edge of the boundary to change where in Life they will emerge, sometimes voluntarily re-entering Death for this purpose. Necromancers are unable to make use of this as only their spirit enters Death and their return location is tied to their physical body.
  • Fallen Hero: At the end of Abhorsen, Mogget hints that Chlorr of the Mask was once an Abhorsen. Garth Nix later partly confirmed this on his blog. Chlorr's original name was Clariel, a.k.a. the lost Abhorsen, and she dates to a few hundred years before the events of Sabriel.
  • Fantastic Nuke: The second of Orannis's nine forms. Not merely equivalent in role, either... See Does This Remind You of Anything?.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Ancelstierre is basically 1920s Britain.
  • Female Feline, Male Mutt: Inverted. The Disreputable Dog is actually a "Disreputable Bitch, if you want to get technical". If she's a bitch, Mogget is a certainly a bastard.
  • Fights Like a Normal: Nick in the novella, where he acts almost entirely as a Badass Normal but has absurd amounts of Free Magic left in his blood thanks to his little stint as Orannis's mouthpiece, which seems to interact with the Charter Mark the Dog gave him in very weird ways.
  • Fingore: At the end of Abhorsen, when Lirael uses the reforged Nehima to break Orannis, the fingers of her right hand literally fuse into the molten hilt. And then the Dog bites her hand off.
  • Fire Keeps It Dead:
    • Undead are so serious a problem for the Old Kingdom that the spell to burn dead bodies is one of the first ones every Charter Mage learns.
    • Subverted as fire is only useful against the lesser undead, shadow hand and other greater undead no longer needed there bodies to cause harm.
  • First Girl Wins: Sabriel to Touchstone.
  • The Force: Inverted: Free Magic existed first, then the charter was created which cut out the bits the creators didn't like and turned it into Functional Magic, including rules and symbols.
  • Foreshadowing: Quite a lot regarding The Reveal of the Disreputable Dog's identity as Kibeth, the Walker, one of the Seven.:
    • Her first question after being summoned? "When are we going for a walk?" This continues to be her number one favorite activity thereafter.
    • Where Mogget's collar is an incredibly powerful binding spell, the Dog's is more like a Charter Stone. She helped make the Charter, so her collar is a physical manifestation of her connection to it.
    • When Lirael is cornered by Hedge, she manages to get away by blowing a pipe at random. The one she gets? Kibeth, because Kibeth a) likes her and wants to protect her and b) is right across the border with Life. And when Lirael gets back, the Dog immediately knows something bad happened- she felt Lirael call on her power.
    • When discussing how some Free Magic creatures don't mind running water, the Dog says that it's no barrier to "those of the Third Kindred, or anything bearing the essence of the Nine." She, a Free Magic creature, is on a boat in the middle of a huge river as she says this.
    • After a man with a crossbow attempts to kill Sam and Lirael from a bridge, the Dog howls, and he jumps to his death. Her explanation? "I made him walk." What else do we know that can do that?
    • After encountering the spirit of Astarael under Abhorsen's house, the Dog barks to get Lirael running
    • During the moments before the final confrontation with Chlorr, Lirael hesistates over which bell to wield in her off hand. Kibeth feels more familiar to her, but she decides to go with Saraneth for its strength.
  • Functional Magic: Several varieties: Rule for Charter, Wild for Free, and a mixture of Theurgy and Device Magic for the Abhorsen.
  • Geometric Magic: The Charter Marks are unique and named runes, each of which has its own power, which can be written with hand or sword, or even whistled or barked (if one is so inclined.)
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: The Dog is prone to biting people who she feels deserve it.
  • God Was My Copilot: The Disreputable Dog (Kibeth) and Mogget (Yrael).
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The Book of the Dead has a mechanism built in to prevent readers from remembering some of the less pleasant parts unless they need them, since otherwise they risk this.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: The Book of the Dead.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: When Sabriel and Touchstone get ambushed in Corvere, Damed, one of their Royal Guard, attempts this, and while he succeeds in saving the king and queen, he dies.
  • Happily Married: Eighteen years after their escapades in the first book, Sabriel and Touchstone are shown to be very satisfied together, while not verging into mushy territory.
  • Hellish Horse: Hedge has one. It is on fire.
  • The Hero's Birthday: Lirael's book opens on her fourteenth birthday, completely despondent because she has not yet received the Sight.
  • Heroic Bastard:
    • Touchstone was the bastard son of the Queen and a nobleman.
    • Lirael of the Clayr, although not technically illegitimate since the Clayr don't typically marry, has to deal with very similar social disapproval because her mother ran off mysteriously (against tradition) and returned pregnant with Lirael, and completely refused to speak of the identity of Lirael's father. The odd circumstances of Lirael's birth, combined with her non-Clayr looks and lack of Clayr gifts, all cause her to be treated by some as an awkward "love child" rather than a "true daughter of the Clayr".
  • Heroic Lineage: All the Charter Bloodlines, especially the Abhorsens.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Plenty in the course of the series.
    • In Sabriel, it is her father, Abhorsen Terciel.
    • In Lirael, it is the Disreputable Dog, aka Kibeth.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Lirael and Sam. Even Touchstone, to an extent.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: Aside from his stated desire to torture all the remaining carriers of the Abhorsen bloodline to death in vengeance for his millennia of servitude, when Mogget acts independently, his motives are never quite clear.
  • Hidden Backup Prince:
    • Touchstone was sealed into a wooden figurehead on a hidden ship to protect him from Kerrigor.
    • Sabriel, and latter Ellimere and Sameth, live most of their younger years in Ancelstierre to protect them from the enemies of the Old Kingdom.
  • Hufflepuff House: The (live) Southerlings in Abhorsen, who border on being a Mauve Shirt Army.
  • Human Popsicle: Touchstone has been sealed for 200 years as a wooden figurehead to a ship.
  • Hunter of His Own Kind: The Abhorsen has the powers of a necromancer and a duty to find and deal with necromancers and the trouble they cause.
  • I Lied: The Reveal that The Disreputable Dog is Kibeth, or rather what remains of Kibeth, directly contradicts an earlier statement, when she said she wasn't one of the Seven. This is the explanation: "After all, I am the Disreputable Dog."
  • Improbable Weapon User: Bells? A mirror? And panpipes at the gates of doom?
  • Improvised Weapon:
    • In Lirael, Sam and his classmates fend off zombies with cricket equipment. (Note: the book pre-dates Shaun of the Dead by three years.)
    • Clariel uses an eel knife as a weapon at one point.
  • Incendiary Exponent: Quite a few of the higher-level Dead are on fire.
  • Incest Is Relative: Sam's hitting on Lirael is less than welcome anyway, and then it turns out he's her nephew. She was conceived when her mother saw herself sleeping with Lirael's father, who is technically her very distant cousin.
  • Intellectual Animal: Several, particularly the Disreputable Dog and Mogget.
  • In the Blood: Lirael's morbid personality and even her idea to kill herself in Lirael make sense when one learns she is the last Abhorsen's daughter. She also has a strong affinity to Free Magic, the pipes and bells, and the Book of the Dead, despite having no exposure at all in her upbringing. She's also the one of the most powerful Clayr ever in terms of Charter Magic, since, aside from the Sight, most Clayr tend to be rather weak with it by themselves.
  • Iron Lady: Sabriel in the later books, acting as Queen.
  • It Is Not Your Time:
    • Towards the end of Sabriel, Sabriel is killed, but when she enters Death she is greeted by the spirits of her ancestors, who tell her she cannot go with them until there is another to carry on the family line.
    • Towards the end of Abhorsen, Lirael reaches the Ninth Gate and begins to float upwards towards the stars, but floats back down to the ground before she can be brought beyond the Ninth Gate and made Deader Than Dead. The Dog explains that this is because it is not her time.
  • Kid with the Leash: Played with with Mogget. The Abhorsen has his leash, all right, but there's a very good reason they keep him on it.
  • Kill It with Fire: One of the ways of dealing with the Dead, especially those who aren't fazed by running water.
  • Kill It with Water: Nearly all of the Dead have trouble crossing running water; this is why the Abhorsen's House is built in the middle of a river, right above the edge of a waterfall, only reachable on foot by hopping across a series of rather precarious stepping stones. And if the Dead decide to lay siege... well, the river's fed by the Clayr's glacier, and the Abhorsens keep a block of ice in their basement for a reason.
  • The Kingdom: The Old Kingdom, capitol city: Belisaere.
  • King Incognito: Sam attempts to do this when he goes out to save Nick, but it goes poorly.
  • Lady of War: Sabriel in the later books.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Most of the stuff written in the Book of the Dead is forgotten the moment it is read, and the reader only remembers when it is required.
  • Last Girl Wins: For Lirael. She first encountered a visitor in the Clayr's Glacier, but was too depressed (and fourteen years old) to notice he was trying to ask her out. Then she met Sam, while he was busy running away and she was undertaking a voyage to find out what Hedge was up to and Sam turned out to be her nephew, so yeah. Last guy she meets? Nick Sayre. The series ends with the two obviously attracted to each other, but not actually dating yet.
  • Leaking Can of Evil: Commonly goes with Nix's favored Sealed Evil in a Can. Kerrigor's sarcophagus, when unearthed, is so riddled with Free Magic that it makes most people who approach it feel nauseated and weak. And the evil that is buried at the Red Lake has an ability to resist the Clayr's scrying, even when they focus their wills there. When unearthed, the hemispheres not only induce sickness, but they call down lightning — constant lightning.
  • Let Them Die Happy: Towards the end of Lirael, Sam and Lirael fail to rescue a band of Southerling refugees from Dead Hands, led by Chlorr. The one man who got away dies of his injuries, but not before Sam lies to him, saying that the rest of his band all survived and escaped.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Nick Sayre is convinced that the "Lightning Farm" is going to be a great energy resource when he gets it to work. The way of the future!
  • Lineage Comes from the Father:
    • For Sabriel, Lirael, and Ellimere. However, averted with Sabriel's father—his aunt trained him—and with Sam, who inherits neither of his parents' Heroic Lineages, since Ellimere is the heiress to the throne and Lirael is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. Luckily for Sam, he gets his own ability as a Wallmaker—the first in nearly a millennium.
    • Averted with Touchstone. The fact that his father was a barbarian from the North accounts for his berserker tendencies, and causes him much grief. But the identity of his mother is what ultimately shapes his destiny.
    • Also Played with Lirael's ability as a Remembrancer, that is, the ability to see into the past, something which can only come from being a child of both the Abhorsen and the Clayr.
    • Also averted with Clariel. Both her Abhorsen and Royal bloodlines come through her Mother.
  • Long Lost Sibling: Lirael is Sabriel's half-sister.
  • Loved I Not Honor More:
    • In later books, it seems that Sabriel and Touchstone, as Abhorsen and hands-on King, have constantly put their callings above their marriage and their duties to their children (although they can always slay Dead together). The first book showed in lavish detail what happens when the Abhorsen and King are not active in the Kingdom, so they're not shown as being selfish or mean — it's just a bad situation. Sabriel does look forward to her son Sam taking on the mantle of Abhorsen-in-Waiting, as that means they'll get to spend time together.
    • Sabriel's own father, Terciel, sent his daughter to a boarding school in another country/world/dimension (not really clear) because he couldn't afford to put his Abhorsen duties on hold enough to raise a child. Also the Clayr told him to.
  • Mad Oracle: The Clayr. An entire clan built of this. In most circumstances, their power of Sight is divided among the hundreds of Clayr, granting each of its members with random fragments of possible futures. This also gives them a rather incoherent sense of time and causality (which might help explain the number of one-night stands they have.)
  • Magic Mirror: The Dark Mirror, a handheld portal into the past, only workable by Remembrancers. By walking into Death and reciting the incantation, the user can see into past events. The farther back one wants to look, the farther into Death she must walk.
  • Magic Music:
    • The necromancers' and Abhorsens' bells, as well as the panpipes. Each of the seven — named for the creators of the Charter — has a different effect. One of the bells casts the listeners deep into the realm of Death, but if you're appropriately skilled and/or powerful, you can just walk back. Whistling was also used when Sabriel brought a rabbit back to life at the very beginning of the first book.
    • Weather magic is another example of this, as it is done by whistling.
  • Magical Gesture: Charter Magic is done by drawing the signs on the air, with hands or with sword-tip. A diamond of protection is drawn with one's sword. Using the magical bells requires gestures (different ways of ringing will produce different effects), so this all crosses over into Ritual Magic.
  • Magical Girl: Technically, Sabriel and Lirael.
  • Magical Library: The Library of the Clayr. It's carved out of a glacier and is the largest repository of magic books and monsters around. It's kept in order by Crazy-Prepared Magic Librarians.
  • Magic Versus Science: Magic tends to win. The existence of the Wall, a magical structure, is the only thing keep Ancelstierre and the Southern nations from being like the Old Kingdom, where technology simply doesn't work.
    “Really, this is impossible!” the doctor began, till a cold glance from one of the guards convinced him that his conversation was currently not required.
  • Magitek: Wallmaker abilities seem to include a talent both with Charter Magic and artifice. Ceramic armor much harder and lighter than steel, enchanted weapons, magic-powered clockwork things, and after the epilogue a magical artificial hand.
  • Male Frontal Nudity:
    • Touchstone, when Sabriel first meets him.
    • And Nick, when Lirael first meets him. In both cases, the pair end up a couple.
  • Meaningful Name: Clayr → clairvoyance. (And, more generally, to "clear"; "clairvoyant" literally means "clear-seeing" in French.)
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Lirael can make skins that allow her to take on the form of an otter, or a bear, or an owl, but each one alters her temperament and perception for a while, even when she takes them off (the otter-skin gives her a great craving for fish, the bear-skin makes her extra irritable, and the owl-skin makes her more sensitive to light, for example.)
  • Muggle Born of Mages:
    • What Lirael initially believes herself to be, as a teenage Clayr who has yet to receive the Sight. She's not. She doesn't get the Sight only because she inherited her father's abilities as a future Abhorsen.
    • It seems at first like Sam is a version of this, as his sister is clearly the future queen and he's pretty hopeless at his Abhorsen-in-Waiting training, despite being a more than adequate Charter Mage. However, it's subverted at the end when we find out that Sam has his own ability, as a Wallmaker.
  • Naked on Arrival: Touchstone
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast:
    • Kerrigor, the Greater Dead Adept.
    • Astarael, the Sorrowful; also, the Weeper: If you hear it, you die.
    • Orannis, The Destroyer.
  • Named Weapons: Weapons made by the Wallmaker; Also the Bells of Necromancy.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: At the end of Clariel, Bel can't bear to kill Clariel - so he binds her from using Free Magic and sends her north, giving her the perfect opportunity to - eventually - become Chlorr of the Mask.
  • Night of the Living Mooks
  • Noodle Incident: Even Garth Nix isn't sure of the events that led Clariel to become Chlorr of the Mask.
  • Not Too Dead to Save the Day: The entire line of Abhorsens, including her father for Sabriel, and the Disreputable Dog for Nick. Both examples send the recipient back to the world of Life.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Mogget and the Dog. Cassiel's bells and The Book of the Dead do this as well.
  • Ominous Fog: Since sunlight is damaging to the Dead, fog is sometimes used instead of darkness as a cover for a large group of Dead. When Kerrigor crosses the Wall with an army of Dead, he brings fog with him. Also, Chlorr creates a white fog while the Destroyer is being brought across the Wall.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Orannis, and by extension, Hedge.
  • One-Gender Race: Though there are some male Clayr, seemingly all of the named ones are women. They're also all blonde, willowy, and tanned (except Lirael).
  • Orphan's Ordeal: In Sabriel, Sabriel's father has vanished and sent her the Abhorsen's tools of the trade. She heads up to the Old Kingdom to investigate, and must come to terms with how little she really knows him, and how she cannot save him.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Even if your guns work, don't bother with headshots. You have to destroy the entire body. And that's just the Dead Hands; the "Shadow Hands" don't even have proper physical bodies. Also, lesser Dead have a hard time with running water, unless their bridge is made from earth taken from a grave.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: In Clariel, Belatiel is frustrated by the fact that despite officially being the Abhorsen his grandfather Tyriel does virtually nothing required of his post, and speculates that he hasn't even read The Book Of The Dead (more or less the manual on how to be an Abhorsen). His aunt Yannael, the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, is no better.
  • Psychic Powers: The Clayr are magical clairvoyants.
  • The Power of Blood: Blood from a Charter mage - and especially one of the Charter Bloodlines - has great powers, especially for destruction.
  • Prescience Is Predictable: The Clayr. At least, they like it when it is.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "Dig faster, for I... must... be... whole... again!"
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Major Greene in Abhorsen is rather eccentric, but he's immensely helpful to Lirael and Sam when they're trying to warn people in Ancelstierre about Orannis.
  • Refusal of the Call: Sameth as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. The Call wasn't actually for him, though. He just happened to be standing closest to the phone. And when he does get his proper call, as a Wallmaker, he gladly accepts it.
  • Restraining Bolt: Mogget's collar. Don't take it off if you value your life.
  • Retcon: The waterfall which separates the first and second precincts of Death is described as "getting louder" when an entity passes through it from the second to the first precinct in Sabriel, but in Lirael when an entity passing through causes the waterfall to go silent.
  • Ritual Magic: Charter magic.
  • Royal Blood: Not only the kingship, but the Abhorsen and the Clayr are also defined by bloodline. At the beginning of the story, the kingdom has gone to pot because there's no legitimate heir of royal blood to take the throne.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something
  • Played straight by most of the Royals shown, averted by King Orrikan in Clariel
  • Royalty Superpower: Royals have stronger magic, are tied to the fate of the realm and the Charter, and bestow limited protection to those who serve the, as Sameth found out. Kerrigor also managed to use this to strengthen himself and his servants, in a corruption of this protection.
  • Save Both Worlds: Ancelstierre ends up at risk from both Kerrigor and the Destroyer, and as the Abhorsen will probably tell you, The World Is Always Doomed in the Old Kingdom.
  • Sdrawkcab Alias: Kerrigor → Rogirek
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Lots, ranging from the seriously dangerous to all but the very skilled to the World-Destroying God-Thing. The Clayr Library, for starters, keeps sets of tools lain out centuries ago for precisely the main character, as well as various Free Magic monsters and an artifact capable of summoning one of the beings that shaped the world.
  • Sealed Evil in a Teddy Bear: More Chaos than Evil, but Mogget.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Clayr live on these. They initiate new members into their ranks when they See themselves initiating her! Although presumably, their powers awake shortly after. And they do occasionally hand out jobs which haven't been forecast.
  • Semi-Divine: Five of the Nine poured most of their power into mortal bloodlines; the Clayr, the Abhorsen, the royal family and the Wallmakers. Consequently, although not directly related to a deity, they all do have powers inherited from a god (or close enough).
  • Servile Snarker: Mogget, since he's basically an enslaved Eldritch Abomination of godlike power and does not appreciate the magic compelling him to always help the Abhorsens. Being completely insufferable is his only way around it.
  • Shadow Dictator: King Orrikan in Clariel had actually planned to abdicate before his daughter Tathiel disappeared, and has spent the last several years refusing to do any sort of governing, instead spending most of his time sitting on the balcony where the Clayr saw a vision of his daughter returning. The resulting machinations to fill the power gap left by him is a big subplot of the novel.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare:
    • The job of Sabriel's family, Abhorsen, shares a name with the executioner in Measure for Measure.
    • In order to hide his true identity, Mogget gives Torrigan the name Touchstone.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Mogget toes—or paws—the line between this and Hidden Agenda Villain.
  • The Soulsaver: Part of the Abhorsen's job description.
  • Songs in the Key of Lock: A shortcut to Abhorsen's House in Sabriel will only open to the sound of Mosrael, a bell which is otherwise never used in the series by the protagonists (it sends the ringer into Death and the Dead into Life. Rather inappropriate for the good guys).
  • Start of Darkness: The prequel book describes this for the titlular character, who eventually becomes [[Spoiler: Chlorr of the mask.]]
  • Stars Are Souls: It is eventually revealed that this is the nature of the Ninth Gate.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Thanks to Superpowerful Genetics, the Abhorsens are all Pale-Skinned Brunettes who get sunburned absurdly fast and the Clayr are all Dark Skinned Blondes with a severe shortage of men.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Several of the creators of the world invested their power in bloodlines. As a result, the Abhorsens, the royal family, the Clayr, and the Wallmakers all tend to manifest special powers and traits.
  • Theme Naming: All named Abhorsens have names that end in -el. Interestingly, Sam, whom everyone thought to be Abhorsen-in-Waiting, does not , while Lirael, who was the real but unknown Abhorsen-in-Waiting, does.
  • There Are No Therapists: After Sameth goes into death alone and is mind-controlled by Hedge, he is taken back to the Old Kingdom, whereupon his mother decides leaving him in the care of his sister is a better idea than staying and ensuring he's in a sound state of mind. Jusitified, to an extent, as one of the smaller plot points is that everyone is too busy (his parents) or too self-assured (his sister) to notice his massive unsuitability for the position of Abhorsen-in-waiting; also, until his traumatic encounter with Hedge, Sam probably didn't seem so massively unsuitable. His family knew he was traumatized but were too busy to realize the direction the trauma took. Especially since Sam was ashamed to reveal it. Given this, it is unsurprising that they did not spend the time or understanding required to counsel him after a traumatic experience in Death.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: When Mogget is unleashed at the end of Sabriel, he attacks Kerrigor to prevent a Kill Steal.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: Basically the reason Yrael sides with Sabriel and co. over Orannis.
  • They Do: Sabriel and Touchstone.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Book of the Dead.
  • Top-Heavy Guy: Kerrigor. In Sabriel, his construct body is described as being ridiculously tall and barrel-chested, as though he was trying to remake his old self, but lacking "taste, memory, or skill." (How un-fabulous.)
  • Took a Level in Badass: In the novella, Nick fights an ancient Free Magic elemental and an army of evil shadow government agents with basically whatever's handy. Word of God says that this story was intended to be something of a joke: Nick looks like a Badass by normal standards, but he faints during his failed attempt to poison the elemental, only to have Lirael (still a novice Abhorsen-in-Waiting) swoop in and defeat the creature with nothing but a thistle.
  • '20s Bob Haircut: Sabriel is described as having one during her very first appearance, though it's not reflected in the cover illustration. (The novel is set in a fantasy world, but Ancelstierre is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to 1920s England in technology level and culture.)
  • Two-Part Trilogy: Lirael and Abhorsen were conceived of as one book.
  • Unstuck in Time: The Clayr live like this. See Mad Oracle.
  • Upgrade Artifact: The Book of the Dead helps in speeding Lirael along in her Abhorsen training while avoiding a case of Instant Expert. (She fumbles a lot and would probably not have survived many of her actions without the Disreputable Dog.)
  • We All Die Someday: Sabriel's father reminds her of this. It is an extremely important idea for Abhorsens to remember, so that they don't meet their own death with fear or denial, or seek to undo deaths that they find unfair.
  • Weakened by the Light: Lesser Dead creatures aren't so keen on traveling by day.
  • Wham Episode: The prologue to Abhorsen is an account of the brutal assassination of Sabriel and Touchstone on foreign ground, using modern weaponry. They received very little screen time in Lirael and are only revealed to have survived a third of the way through Abhorsen (and the attack still killed all but one of the royal escort), making it especially shocking, particularly if reading the trilogy start to finish. Their deaths are even more convincing due to a subtle perspective shift in the narration which falls just short of lying to the reader's face.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: Sabriel's father, Sabriel herself, and even Lirael's mother, sort of.
    "I have not been an ideal parent, I know. None of us ever is."
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Played straight and averted. When the Disreputable Dog tells Lirael about the creation of the world and the Charter, she says that two of the Seven chose to retain their immortal and integrated selves. She says that perhaps they weren't tired of life, and were interested in how the world would develop, which implies that the other Five had wearied of their lives, which by then must have spanned millenia.
  • Wild Magic: Free Magic.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Nicholas Sayre, once the Destroyer is unbound, who dies from the trauma his body's been put through, rather than a direct wound.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Dead Hands, which are corpses reanimated and somehow deformed by Free Magic, are mindless, squishy, and very persistent. In Lirael, Sabriel and Touchstone think that making enough of them to overrun the entire continent is Hedge's plan; unfortunately, it turns out they're rather underestimating the damage he intends to cause.

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alternative title(s): Old Kingdom; Sabriel; Lirael; Abhorsen; The Old Kingdom
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