Book Reviews

Review: Terciel & Elinor by Garth Nix

Garth Nix returns to the world of the Old Kingdom in this fantastic prequel to Sabriel!

Book: Terciel & Elinor by Garth Nix

Publication date: 2nd November 2021

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Hot Key Books. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: violence, injury and death, including some detailed treatment of wounds; house fire; death including death of animals and family members; necromancy, revenants and death magic.

A thrilling, atmospheric dive into the history of the Abhorsen, featuring Sabriel’s parents, Terciel and Elinor.

In the Old Kingdom, a land of ancient and often terrible magics, eighteen year-old orphan Terciel is learning the art of necromancy – but not to raise the Dead, rather to lay them to rest. He is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, the latest in a long line of people whose task it is to make sure the Dead do not return to Life.

Across the Wall in Ancelstierre, a steam-age country where magic usually does not work, nineteen year-old Elinor lives a secluded life, her only friends an old governess and an even older groom who was once a famous circus performer. Her mother is a tyrant, feared by all despite her sickness and impending death . . .

Elinor does not know she is deeply connected to the Old Kingdom, until a plot by an ancient enemy of the Abhorsens brings Terciel to Ancelstierre. In a single day of fire and death and loss, Elinor finds herself set on a path which will take her into the Old Kingdom, into Terciel’s life, and will embroil her in the struggle of the Abhorsens against the Dead who will not stay dead.

It was an absolute delight to be back in this world again. I fell in love with Sabriel as a young teen, but I didn’t realise quite how nostalgic reading this book would make me feel – now I want to reread the series all over again. The worldbuilding is just so clever and rich, and the magic feels so interesting – I’m amazed that nearly 20 years later, this still feels so cohesive with the first book in style and in the sense of wonder it evokes. I really can’t quite express how very cool this world is – it’s the perfect vehicle for adventure, but there are just so many interesting little touches that really feel unique from any other fantasy I’ve read.

Terciel & Elinor adds so many details to the world, in a way that feels so smooth and natural. Despite the fact that this series has a heavy focus on death, fate, and dark magic, there’s something super cosy about reading them. I loved the extra peeks into the Abhorsen’s House here, which has to be one of the most fun settings of the whole world, with its mysterious passageways and magical creature comforts. Both our protagonists are great characters in a very typical Garth Nix vein – they’re a little odd, a little lonely, but deeply capable and upstanding people you’d like very much to be friends with. There’s little moral greyness here, just good old fashioned good and evil, but that doesn’t mean everyone is likeable all the time; it means the nuance is in the character work, not the circumstances, and I much prefer it that way.

Before reading, I saw several of my friends saying that they felt a little let down by where the story actually went; since this is billed as being the story of Sabriel’s parents, and both of them are named in the title, they were surprised to find that Terciel and Elinor actually spend much of the book apart before getting to know each other. Perhaps it was that I was prepared because of those complaints, but I didn’t find that disappointing at all – the events that lead them to each other are the story, rather than their romance (although what we do get to see of that is lovely – and I hugely appreciated the sex positivity, which felt very right for the world). I found that the intertwining of their two separate stories is a satisfying read in itself, but for the sake of my own indulgence, I wish it had been much longer, because I loved them both, and this is a short, fast-paced read where I could easily have luxuriated in something much longer. There’s a wealth of events that we don’t get to see; I’d even be tempted to say this could have sustained a trilogy, with one book looking at Terciel’s youth at the Abhorsen’s House (which is skimmed over between the prologue and his first full chapter, when he’s grown up), one book expanding on Elinor’s arc here, spending more time on her life at Wyverley College, and then a final book taking its time with the climax of this book and then their continued love story. It’s wishful thinking, but there was never a point in this book where I thought ‘I’ve had enough of this part’ – I just wanted more of all of it. Yes, I would have loved more romance, but I’m not sure it would have fitted in with the feel of the series – and of course, there’s the issue that this is a prequel, so we know how things will end up…

So this leaves me in a weird position writing this review – I enjoyed every moment while I was reading, and think this is a brilliant book for what it is, but also, it left me wanting more (but kind of in a good way). If you’re an Old Kingdom fan from way back, I think this is a must-read, and I also think it will be a great taster for those new to the series (though I recommend starting with Sabriel, both for the more obvious explanation of the magic, and to pick up on all the delicious foreshadowing here). Despite my various feelings, I’m going with my gut on this one, and that’s that I had a wonderful time, so five out of five cats!

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