Richard’s Booklist

My colleague Richard is in the throes of finishing his masters.  Or rather – he should be.  I am not allowed to give him any distracting books to read.  In the mean time, I’m compiling a list for him to enjoy once that masters is submitted.

I’ve already got Richard to read Philip Pullman’s  “His Dark Materials” series.  These are easily the best books I’ve ever read.  You can read more about them here.

So, Richard, if you liked those ones, you will definitely  love Phillip Pullman’s “Sally Lockhart”  series.    Four books follow the life of a young orphaned girls in Dickensian London.  Sound a bit humdrum?  Just read the first paragraph:

On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October, 1872, a hansom cab drew up outside the offices of Lockhart and Selby,  Shipping Agents in the financial heart of London, and a young girl got out and paid the driver.  She was a person of sixteen or so – alone, and uncommonly pretty.  She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blonde hair that the wind had teased loose.  She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair.  Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.

Doesn’t that just make you want to curl up in bed and read all night?

On the theme of strong heroines, the next recommendation has to be Garth Nix’s “Abhorsen” trilogy.  The first book, “Sabriel”, was written as a stand alon novel, and then the next two – “Lireal” and “Abhorsen” were written to continue the story.

This is pure fantasy but with a visceral Garth Nix twist.  Nix is known for his ability to create such convincing creatures and situations, you feel you should be able to smell them.  He has more than a pinch of the horror writer, which means you get a whole new take on a sometimes tired genre.

Here is a world of two countries:  Ancelstierre and The Old Kingdom.  Ancelstierre is free of magic and very much like a sensible version of Britain in the early 30’s. The Old Kingdom is altogether darker.  Here the line between life and death is not so clearly drawn as it is in our world.  It is possible for the living to travel into death, and for the dead to return into life- even though they can never be truly alive again.  There are necromancers  who strive for everlasting life, and gain power by controlling the bodies and spirits of all who have died.

Then there is  Sabriel, the daughter of the Abhorsen.  This is a hereditary position; a necromancer whose task it is to banish all other necromancers beyond the seventh gate of the river of death, beyond which it is impossible for them to return.  The Abhorsen must re-establish the natural balance of life and death and ensure that the dead stay dead, and buried.

Sabriel learns that her father is missing – probably trapped in death, and she has to step into his position and become the Abhorsen in order to rescue him.

Here is Sabriel as visualized by Leo and Diane Dillon

Here is Garth Nix’s vision of Death as  Sabriel steps from the safety of her girl school dorm:

“…she let herself slip over the border into Death, her eyes still on the intruder.  The river flowed around her legs, cold as always. The light, grey and without warmth, still streched to an entirely flat horizon.  In the distance she could hear the roar of the First Gate.”

As with all Garth Nix’s book, this small description does not even begin to cover it.  I haven’t mentioned the weapons of the Necromancers – a bandoleer of seven bells with which they control the dead, each bell with their own personality and matching power.  Or the way in which the soldiers on the border between Ancelstierre, whose superior officers don’t believe in magic,  have adapted their gear to include medieval armour and weapons.  Because when the wind blows from the Old Kingdom all modern technology inexplicably stops working.

To whet your appetite, here is the text from a notice at “The Perimeter”, which is the border post between Ancelstierre and The Old Kingdom that has to deal with the “dead hands” and “shadow hands” ; the army of the dead under the command of necromancers:


Unauthorised egress from the Perimeter Zone
is strictly forbidden.
Anyone attempting to cross the Perimeter Zone
will be shot without warning.
Authorised travellers must report to the
Perimeter Command HQ


Garth Nix is one of those authors with many, passionate fans.  I discovered a new aspect of on-line culture – creating fake “trailers” of books, using experts from existing movies.  Here is a typical trailer for “Sabriel”

Well, you may not be able to watch Sabriel the movie, but you can read the book.  But not if you are Richard.  Or at least, not yet.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andries
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 17:21:22

    In the bookshop in Copenhagen International Airport, the Dark Materials trilogy is displayed in the UK Non-Fiction session. The truth is out there.

  2. mashadutoit
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 17:24:42

    A hah! Makes sense. I’ve always wondered about that whole “fiction” “none fiction” split…

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