This is a very solid young adult fantasy. It's got some aspects that are unlike anything I've seen, and others that are more familiar, but well done. The characters are interesting, and the evolving relationships, thankfully, more subtle than a lot of more recent books. And a focus on necromancy for a book meant for teenagers? Interesting....
For the magic in this book revolves around the dead. There seem to be other sorts of magic, but they are background, and this is foreground. The fantasy world exists right beside our own, separated by a wall that reminds me of nothing so much as Hadrian's wall. In our time period, it seems to be about the 1950s. Across the wall, time does not run at the same pace, and the phases of the moon are different. The powers that be seem to know about the magical kingdom on t'other side of the wall, and man it accordingly, with soldiers. Some who have been trained in Charter Magic, the magic of the kingdom.
I'm a little fuzzy on the Charters, still. They are filled out somewhat through the book, but not entirely explained. It's not the type of lack of explanation that drives me batty, though. I get the feeling it's coming. I can wait.
But I was talking about the dead, wasn't I? Right, necromancy! For the land behind the wall, more and more dead stalk the land, occupying the bodies of the living. And there seems to be an evil force behind them. Into this comes our young adult protagonist, refreshingly, a female character. The most refreshing thing is that swooning or falling desperately in love is not her main consideration. (Okay, yes, maybe she does fall in love, but it happens slowly.)
Sabriel (My husband was convinced this was a book about angels, given the way the name is constructed. It's not.) is brought up on our side of the wall, at a girl's school nearby, where she is taught magic as well as more practical things. Near her 18th birthday, she is sent a message that her father is missing, and knows she must cross the wall to look for him. Once there, and the going is rough, she discovers that not only was he her father, and a strange sort of necromancer, but that he had an official title, which has now passed to her. This is Abhorsen, and it means the one necromancer who holds the duty of banishing the dead instead of raising them.
Now Sabriel must embark on a journey to find her father's fallen body, and figure out what being the Abhorsen means. She brings a spirit masquerading as a cat with her, named Mogget, and frees a man frozen in time and place, who calls himself Touchstone, and belongs to a much earlier age.
The middle part of the book felt a bit meandering, but I think it was to teach this new world to both Sabriel and the reader. The pace of the reveals is good, but the journey could be a bit more tightly plotted. But as the danger grows, so does the urgency.
The magic is particularly dark in this book, and that's a nice change. There is the suggestion of nicer magic about, but it is certainly not the focus. It's dangerous, it's chancy, and it involves death. For all that, the book is not too intense for young adult readers, and i would recommend it. It didn't enchant me, but it was very enjoyable.