Goldenhand

Nix has really upped his narrative game with this one. Goldenhand came out so many years after the original books, I didn’t think he was ever going to revisit this world. Man am I glad he did.

Once you start reading this book, you see why he wanted to write Clariel, too. Reading Clariel isn’t super necessary if you want to enjoy Goldenhand, though. You’ve already read Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen, so you already want to spend more time with the characters (and if you haven’t read The Creature in the Case yet, go do that before you dive into Goldenhand).

It’s tough to follow up a trilogy ending where they literally save the universe, of course. And somehow, Nix does it with style. He employs switching POV chapters, and introduces new characters that are just brilliant and endearing. Lirael and Nicholas are kind of adorbs, and I’m so so glad we get to spend more time with Lirael, because two books with her definitely wasn’t enough.

Sameth has matured in a really wonderful way. We get the promise of it near the end of Abhorsen, and we get to really see how it’s unfurled in Goldenhand.

There’s new magic in this, and new lands north of the Old Kingdom that we haven’t visited before. We get to explore more of Lirael’s past, as she uses her Remembrancer skills and through a message passed down through the years.

The villain in this book is probably the most complex and interesting one yet. I won’t say she does it for me quite the same as the Destroyer, because that was one badass, inexorable villain. But Chlorr of the Mask is interesting and has a lot of depth to her, which makes for interesting conflict.

If you enjoyed any of the previous books in this series, you should read all the way through to Goldenhand. If you enjoy good fantasy, with well-wrought characters, an intelligent magic system, and a fully realized world complete with history and landscape, then this is definitely a book for you.

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The Creature in the Case

This is a lovely, compelling short story that takes place in the Abhorsen universe. Chronologically, it happens between the events of Abhorsen and those of Goldenhand. It follows Nicholas Sayre, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like him enough to care about this story. Thankfully, Nix provides enough interesting situations, endearing awkwardness, and fast-paced action to help you fall for Nicholas.

This story is definitely worth reading. It should be read after Abhorsen and before Goldenhand, in particular by those who love Lirael’s character from the original trilogy.

Abhorsen

There are some people who don’t enjoy the progression that happens in some trilogies, where the first novel is sort of the introductory conflict, the second novel deals with even bigger events like the fate of the world, and the third novel deals with the fate of the whole friggin universe. If you’re that type of person, you might not like these books. You should still read them, of course, because they’re fantastic. But, you’ve been warned.

This third installment to the original “trilogy” (now expanded with the new sequel Goldenhand) definitely escalates to the “save the universe” level. It does it so organically, though, that you really can’t (or shouldn’t, anyway) complain.

We get more Sabriel and Lirael and Sameth, all good things. There’s more Mogget and Dog. There are new, interesting characters that you want to love. There are secondary characters that we’ve already met who grow more prominent. There’s suspense and more time spent in Death and the best villains yet.

This isn’t a light, magical story. This trilogy (or series, now) is dark, and heavy. It’s supposed to be. And it earns it. It earns the weight, and seriousness, and still gives you all the feels.

Again, Mogget is my absolute favorite. I’ve said that three times now in these reviews. You really get to the meat of it in this book.

Fans of Sabriel and Lirael have to read this book—it’d be silly not to. It’s a beautiful closure to the conflicts started in the previous books, and heralds in a brief respite for our characters before we get to jump in to Goldenhand.

Lirael

Please excuse me while I gush about one of my favorite books ever.

SO GOOD.

The world you get in Sabriel is amazing and beautiful and dark and you get EVEN MORE of it in Lirael. Not to mention a protagonist who you might be able to identify with a lot more, if you’re anything like me. I actually love Sabriel, but in a way that absolutely pales in comparison to how much I love Lirael, as soon as I read this book. I didn’t know what I was missing, and then there it was, and it was so satisfying.

Lirael’s journey starts out with less physical journey-ing in the beginning. Sabriel kind of sets off right away in her book, but Lirael doesn’t do that. For good reason. We get to spend some time really getting to know her fears, her motivations, her history, all the feels before we get plunged into more by-the-map journeying.

Mogget is still my favorite, but I know about half the population would like the predominant secondary character in this book more than Mogget. Dog is just—a whole different level. Fans of Ponch from the Young Wizards series will absolutely love her. I absolutely love her, though I still love Mogget just a tiny bit more throughout the books.

I think my favorite thing about Lirael, as a character, is that she’s so awkward. She’s realistic, she’s unsure of herself, but brave when she really needs to be. That rings true, for me. So much of this book hit home with me, right in the gut. There’s so much beauty and darkness warring in this world, and within the characters. Life can be sucky and awful sometimes but everyone is still fighting in the name of Life, metaphorically and literally.

There’s one particular scene where Lirael sort of finds out who she is, and it’s juxtaposed with another character, Sameth, finding out who he’s not, and it’s just beautiful. Perfectly timed, and perfectly at odds, and since you care about the characters you can feel both feelings.

You can probably tell that I enjoy re-reading these books every few years. It’s been awesome to re-read them with actual new content to look forward to, in the form of Goldenhand. New and old fans can be glad that Nix decided to continue this really fabulous series. Keep reading, because you’ll want to get to Goldenhand—spoiler: it’s really good.

Sabriel

The first scene of this book always gets me. It starts out so mundane. And then, all of a sudden, it absolutely isn’t. But in a sweet, introductory way that welcomes you into this amazing world with one of the most brilliant magic systems I’ve encountered.

I first read Sabriel in middle school, back when there was no Creature in the Case, or Clariel, or Goldenhand. It’s actually been pretty surreal, re-visiting this world because there are actual new additions to it. (Can someone go poke Mary Stanton to finish the damn Unicorns of Balinor series already? I’ve been waiting on that since elementary school…)

My doctor asked me what I was reading when I went in for an appointment while I was re-reading this recently, and surprisingly (do doctors have time to read, after all that schooling?) he said he’d read it, and he remembered it as pretty dark, and scary, with dead people, right?

I had to laugh. Though, I think I was pleased that he didn’t say “zombies.” This is NOT a zombie book. No way. The magic in this book is with necromancers, and those are very different things. Personally, I think magic and necromancy are way more cool than zombies.

When it comes down to it, everything about this book is cooler than you might be expecting. I say it’s Young Adult, and then you’re surprised when things get so dark with long-dead spirits and re-born demon creatures fighting to stay in the world of Life. Likewise you might be expecting a dramatic, angsty romance, which isn’t present in this book. I say magic, and some people might scorn it as escapist fantasy (though if you do, be careful about how you tell me that, because it makes me seriously question why I’m still friends with someone when they do that). Instead, you get one of the best magic systems, akin to the Earthsea cycle or The Name of the Wind. The system is actually similar to both of those, but instead of having to know the true “name” of something, you have to know the charter marks that describe all of life and the universe. You have to be able to use the right ones at the right time, and combine them in just the right way, to get the results you’re looking for. It’s an art form in these books, one absolutely at odds with the steady march into “modern” times that you see in the juxtaposition of the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre.

Sabriel is a kickass character. Her dad disappears, and she leaves school to travel into the dangerous Old Kingdom to try to find him. She meets mentors and villains along the way, and manages to stumble into some awkward yet fateful situations. She doesn’t falter, though. She doesn’t whine. She’s one of the most capable female characters I know of, and I appreciate that I got to read her as a young girl, because she’s a great role model.

I won’t say too much about him, because I don’t want to give you any spoilers, but Mogget is my absolute favorite. You’ll see why, when you read these books.

Oh, and speaking of—you’ll want to read all of these books. You can stop at Sabriel if you really really want to. The events of the next book, Lirael, happen a long time after the events of Sabriel, chronologically. BUT you don’t want to read Lirael without having read Sabriel, because Sabriel is a better introduction to the world. Lirael might be too much too quickly, if you don’t understand some of the more basic concepts about how this world works. And you HAVE to read Lirael. It’s one of my favorite books ever. Lirael is one of my favorite characters ever. It gives me that same indescribable feeling that certain sections of Miyazaki movies do. There’s a purity and a I’ll-never-forget-this-ness to Lirael.

The plot is well-paced in Sabriel, the characters are wonderful. The world is genius and the magic system is top notch, especially if you worried about things like Harry Potter spells not coming with any sort of cost from the caster. This magic system is balanced and beautiful, and well worth exploring. I’d say this book (and the Abhorsen series) is great for any reader, really, not just YA fans.