With a series spanning eight individual titles and throwing prequels and sequels into the mix, diving into anything new (especially books!) is a daunting task. Where do you start, where do you end, and what’s linked to what? Not to worry. This page is here for all your summary and recommended reading order needs, and is my attempt to sell the series to you with as few words as possible - I'd recommend the overview if you're looking for a little more than an appetiser and all the juicy details.
whilst this pages endeavours to be spoiler light, be forewarned that everything Abhorsen onwards does inevitably have some minor spoilers in their summaries. I've tried my best to keep them as vague as possible.
Book 1: Sabriel
is where the series begins, first published back in 1995. A denizen of the Old Kingdom and wielder of Charter Magic, Sabriel is the daughter to the Abhorsen. As a child, she is taken across the wall to the non-magical Ancelstierre where she will be safe from her father's greatest enemies - until those same enemies come for him. Sabriel is thrust into her role as Abhorsen and travels back to the land of her birth in order to save her father and defeat a very old, powerful evil.
There's also a talking cat and a bastard prince who come along for the ride.
Recommended order: Always first. Develops the world and the Abhorsens.
Book 2: Lirael
was first published in 2001, and the first half of the book takes place fourteen years after the ending of Sabriel; the final half is set nineteen years later. The focus shifts to Lirael, an anxiety ridden self induced outcast as she feels she does not belong within the Clayr - despite wishing for the Sight, it never comes. She whiles her time away in the library, teaching herself Charter magic, and stumbles unto her true destiny.
Meanwhile, Sabriel's son, Sameth, begins his training as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting - or is supposed to, for he is terrified of Death and necromancers. Sam runs, and Lirael winds up confronting her surprising destiny head on, and the two find themselves on a journey to save Sam's friend, Nicholas, from digging up something best left alone.
Most importantly, there's a talking dog as well as the cat, Sameth is a whiny indulgent prince, and Lirael is one of the best fictional characters I've ever come across. If you're on the fence about Sabriel, Lirael is the book I'd encourage you to read before making a choice about whether this series if for you.
Recommended order: After Sabriel, possibly after Clariel. My personal favourite.
Book 3: Abhorsen
picks up hours after Lirael left off. Released in 2003, Abhorsen is effectively the rest of the second half of Lirael
; it was envisioned and written as one, then split into a seperate volume as the page count increased.
Notably, there's a confidence to the two leads that only comes about in Abhorsen, that wasn't present in Lirael. Growing more secure in their new callings, Lirael and Sam set out to find Nicholas but are too late to stop him from succeeding in digging up Orannis, the ninth bright shiner. It is then up to the entire cast - of multiple generations - to find a way to bind him and save both the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre from complete anihilation.
Recommended order: Follows on immediately from Lirael.
Book 3.5: The Creature in the Case
The Creature in the Case
is a short novella that was written for World Book Day in 2005 - it it also included in Across The Wall
, which is the easiest way to get your hands on it. The Creature in The Case
follows on six months from the ending of Abhorsen, and takes place entirely in Ancelstierre. Nicholas struggles with his decision not to accompany his new found friends back to the Old Kingdom, and in doing so stumbles upon a creature of free magic, long dormant due to its distance from the Wall. Inevitably, the creature wakes, and it's up to Nick's quick thinking to stop it from wreaking havoc.
The Creature in the Case is, chronologically, happening at the same time as the beginning chapters of Goldenhand - the last few pages are told from Lirael's point of view in the latter.
Recommended order: After Abhorsen, before Goldenhand.
Book 4: Clariel
is a prequel that takes place several hundred years before the events of Sabriel
, in a time before the interregnum when the Kingdom was relatively settled. Released in 2014, this book tells the backstory of a particular character introduced in Lirael
. The titular Clariel has one goal, which is to get out of the capital and get back to her forest, where she become a hunter. This doesn't happen, as Clariel gets caught up in political machinations, Free Magic plots, and her own temptations for vengeance.
The talking cat is behind a lot of it, naturally, and Clariel's mother is pretty rad. As someone who doesn't particularly excel with Charter magic and is only an Abhorsen by blood relation, Clariel is a more unique perspective on the universe.
Recommended order: Varies. On your first read, I'd recommend it after Abhorsen, but absolutely before Goldenhand; subsequently, I'd personally read it after Sabriel.
Book 5: Goldenhand
, the sequel I waited a long, long
thirteen years for. Released in 2016, Goldenhand picks up six months after Abhorsen
and delves into all the questions, answers, and scenarios I had imagined and wanted for many, many years. It is, in its way, a celebration of Lirael as a character, and continues Nick's legacy from his time as the leading narrative voice in The Creature In The Case
Effectively a loveletter, this is the book long time fans need to read; for those reading it for the first time along with the rest, it's unlikely it will have the same effect - but it has new regions, places, and characters to introduce without the urgency in the later chapters of Abhorsen, and is an excellent read by itself. Though an ending to the arc, this is a world Mr. Nix has expressed he can return to - though it's likely to be with someone new or undocumented, with the current cast's story wrapped up so neatly.
Recommended order: Last! Ties up loose ends for the rest of the series.
Across the Wall
Across The Wall
is a collection of short stories that take place in the Old Kingdom. I'm ashamed to admit that despite owning this book (and having it signed), I have not read these stories beyond a brief skimming - the only one that has an effect on the series is The Creature in the Case
. The rest are an expansion on themes and ideas, or texts the characters read at some point or another, and do not feature the main cast.
To Hold The Bridge
To Hold The Bridge
is another collection of short stories released after Clariel
, that, to my understanding, take place in roughly the same time period. Again, this is a collection I have not read; all I can tell you is it is not relevant to the rest of the series - again, they do not feature the main cast and only expand upon the universe.