Sabriel is the daughter of the Abhorsen, the magical protector of the Old Kingdom who makes sure that the Dead stay Dead. But having spent her childhood at boarding school in the neighbouring country of Ancelstierre, Sabriel knows little about her homeland and the dangerous creatures that roam there. When her father becomes trapped in Death, however, Sabriel must return to the Old Kingdom. Armed with her father's sword and binding-bells, and accompanied by an ancient spirit in the form of a white cat and a secretive young mage, Sabriel must discover and defeat whoever or whatever is behind this uprising of the Dead.
I really enjoyed this gem of a historical fantasy. It's aimed at younger readers so the plot is fairly straightforward, and there's no swearing, sex, or bad language, but Sabriel is one of those books which never reads like its written for children. It's fun, scary, action-packed from start to finish, and deals with issues of responsibility, duty, and the death of a parent. Sabriel herself is a necromancer with dark and deadly abilities, but she's also very likeable. She's tough, sensible, very relatable, and does whatever needs to be done with the minimum of fuss or angst. She also stumbles, and doubts herself, and realises that learning how to do something and actually doing it are two very different things.
Recommended For: Anyone looking for fantasy stories that don't patronise younger readers
Read On: The next book in the Old Kingdom series is Lireal by Garth Nix. Another children's fantasy with a practically minded heroine is Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.