Old Kingdom (book series)

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The Old Kingdom, or Abhorsen in North America, is a fantasy fiction series by Australian author Garth Nix. It originated in 1995 with the novel Sabriel and has continued in novels Lirael (2001) and Abhorsen (2003), novella The Creature in the Case (2005), and other short fiction.[a] In Australia the omnibus edition comprising three novels and one novella was titled The Old Kingdom Chronicles (2009, Allen & Unwin (Australia)). U.S. omnibus editions have been titled The Abhorsen Trilogy (2003) and The Abhorsen Chronicles (2009). ISFDB catalogues the entire continuing series as "The Old Kingdom / Abhorsen".[1] The series continued with the prequel novel Clariel (2014).

Nix has announced another Old Kingdom books, a "sequel of sorts to Abhorsen" (below).



Main article: Sabriel

Sabriel is in her final few days at her school in Ancelstierre (an alternate history of 1910s England), when she is visited by a spirit summoned by her father (the Abhorsen) who is trapped in Death, and departs to rescue him. Accompanied by Mogget from the Abhorsens' house, she discovers Touchstone as a figurehead of a boat; reanimates him; and with him, continues to Belisaere (the capital of the Old Kingdom). Below the city is a lake with the six Great Charter Stones, with two broken by the antagonist Kerrigor. There, Sabriel briefly frees her father, who diverts Kerrigor while the others escape.

Sabriel and Touchstone then travel to Ancelstierre to find and destroy Kerrigor's body, which the local soldiery (at their behest) convey to Wyverly College, Sabriel's school. Kerrigor and his undead followers besiege the College, killing many students and guardsmen; whereupon Mogget, assuming his true form, fights Kerrigor over who will kill Sabriel. Kerrigor overpowers and consumes Mogget and throws Sabriel onto her sword; whereupon she throws Mogget's binding ring over Kerrigor. This creates two cats: a black Kerrigor and white Mogget, which are then bound by Ranna. Sabriel then dies, but is resurrected by her ancestors to succeed her father as the Old Kingdom's protector.


Main article: Lirael

Lirael is raised among the Clayr; but having coal-black hair, a pale complexion, and brown eyes, differs physically from her chestnut-skinned, white-blonde, blue or green-eyed peers, and additionally lacks their native precognition. Through her solitary work in the mysterious library in the Clayr's Glacier, Lirael discovers an apparently predestined adventure of utmost importance. While trying to make a canine sending, she accidentally summons the immortal 'Disreputable Dog', thereafter her constant companion. Meanwhile in Ancelestierre, Prince Sameth (the son of Sabriel and Touchstone) is attacked by the necromancer Hedge and his summoned Dead Hands (a zombie-like construct acting as subsidiaries); and his friend Nicholas 'Nick' Sayre is placed under Hedge's control. Sameth's father, Touchstone, thereafter conveys him to their capital Belisaere. Here he is expected to follow his mother as the Abhorsen, a future of which he is terrified.

Concurrently, Nick Sayre crosses the border into the Old Kingdom and thence to the Red Lake, a region in the south-west of the Kingdom where neither the royal rule nor the Clayr's 'Sight' has influence. Upon news thereof, Sameth goes in search of him, and is later joined by Mogget. Meanwhile, Lirael inherits the artifacts of a Remembrancer (a clairvoyant able to view the past) and is swiftly dispatched to fulfill a very recent vision of herself and Nick Sayre upon the Red Lake. She is joined by Sameth and Mogget en route. All are attacked repeatedly and nearly overcome by Chlorr of the Mask; but reach the Abhorsens' House, where Lirael is identified as Sabriel's half-sister and heir, and Sameth as successor to the now-extinct 'Wallmakers'.


Main article: Abhorsen

The novel begins at Abhorsen's House, which is besieged by Dead Hands led by Chlorr of the Mask under the control of the necromancer Hedge. Hedge himself serves Orannis the Destroyer, an immortal imprisoned millennia prior by 7 of its 8 cohorts and now desirous to destroy the biosphere. The protagonists escape the siege through a well-like opening, in whose adjoined tunnel they encounter the spirit 'Astarael', implied the originator of the Abhorsens' power. Meanwhile, Prince Sameth's parents, the Abhorsen Sabriel and King Touchstone, are in Ancelstierre trying to stop the genocide of refugees; but are nearly themselves killed by rebels and return to the Old Kingdom. Thereafter all the leading characters unite at the two nations' divisive Wall (a fictionalized Hadrian's Wall) to re-enact the imprisonment of Orannis; and having done so, Lirael's 'Disreputable Dog' (a self-identified remnant of the spirit 'Kibeth') revives the dead Nicholas Sayre and departs into the border dividing Life from Death.

The Creature in the Case[edit]

Novella[a] The Creature in the Case was published for 2005 World Book Day (HarperCollins Children's Books, March 2005, ISBN 978-0-00-720138-9). It was retitled "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case" for collection in Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories (2005).[1]

According to the publisher, "It is six months since the cataclysmic events of Abhorsen ...".[1] Nicholas Sayre is sent by his Uncle Edward to a party, to observe the workings of a clandestine government organisation responsible for gathering information about the Old Kingdom. The organisation's head, Alastor Dorrance, has covertly obtained a monstrous 'Hrule' and intends to free it across the Wall; and when he attempts to do so, it runs amok, destroying numerous people until pursued by Nicholas to the Wall, where it is rendered harmless by Lirael.

"An Extract of the Journal of Idrach the Lesser Necromancer"[edit]

This short story[a] was distributed by the Old Kingdom series web site[2] and collected in Across the Wall (Allen & Unwin (Australia), 2005).[1]

To Hold the Bridge[edit]

Novella[a] To Hold the Bridge was published in 2010 as part of the anthology Legends of Australian Fantasy, edited by Jack Dann and Jonathan Strahan (HarperCollins Publishers Australia, 2010, ISBN 978-0-7322-8848-8).[1][3]


Main article: Clariel

Clariel, a prequel to the original three books of the series, is set some six hundred years before the events of Sabriel, in an Old Kingdom that is ruled by an absentee King, Orrikan, who has withdrawn from public life and refuses to rule until his daughter returns to take the crown. In his place, the mercantile Guilds have taken power, led by the powerful Kilp, the Guildmaster of the Goldsmiths, who rules as Governor in Belisaere. Clariel enters the story as the young daughter to a talented goldsmith, Jaciel, the estranged daughter of the current Abhorsen, whose family has been brought to the capital much to her distress. The story proceeds with Clariel's reluctant admission to an academy for the young elite and an encounter with a Free Magic creature that leaves her curious about its forbidden nature. After a meeting with the King that ended badly, Clariel is taken to dine at the Governor's manor, where a chance encounter uncovers that Kilp's son (who Clariel was previously going to be married to) has consorted with a Free Magic creature to cheat his way into the Guild. Clariel's family is killed in the fighting that follows, and Clariel briefly escapes, only to be captured and locked in an underground prison. She escapes once more and flees with the help of Belatiel to the Abhorsen's estates in the south, only to be locked away again by the Abhorsen for her safety. Fearing that her parents would not be revenged, Clariel conspires with Mogget to free some of the Free Magic entities imprisoned in the House and use their power to escape back to Belisaere and revenge her family. In the process of doing so, Clariel corrupts her Charter Mark by binding Free Magic creatures into her service. When she reaches the city, she kills Kilp and his son and rescues the King, only to nearly be killed by the creatures she bound earlier. She is saved by Belatiel, who has taken up the bells and become the Abhorsen, but is disfigured and badly injured. Belatiel helps her to leave once she has recovered to live in the forests of the far north, and gives her back a bronze mask she had earlier used to protect herself from Free Magic.

It is confirmed in the book's afterword that Clariel is indeed the story of how Chlorr of the Mask began as a Free Magic sorcerer.

Planned works[edit]

In the afterword of Clariel, Nix writes that he intends to continue the series with a book that "jumps forward again and continues the story of Nicholas Sayre (and Lirael), picking up their story after the novella The Creatures in the Case"[verification needed]. He does not mention when the book will be released, or what its working title might be.


The Charter and Free Magic[edit]

In the Old Kingdom, magic takes two forms: Free Magic or Charter Magic. While the former is older and natural in origin, the latter is imposed (in-universe, by the immortal 'Seven Bright Shiners') as an assurance of order, and is thereafter invoked as a god by mortal characters. Some Free Magic remains in the world, mainly in various breeds of monster (four are named: Stilken, Margrue, Hish, and Hrule). The Charter is described as an "endless flow" of symbols describing the universe in its entirety; each used by magicians to achieve psychokinesis. The composition of spells ranges from single Charter marks to long series sometimes requiring a 'master mark' and sometimes a physical focus (typically a sword or wand). Though Free Magic is 'corrosive' to living things and Charter Magic, Free Magic spells are required to pass the Gates of Death, and the calls of the Abhorsen's bells are Free Magic spells that serve the Charter. Although the Abhorsen may use Free Magic without suffering long-term ill effects, typical necromancers are ultimately "devoured by the Free Magic they profess to master". Practitioners of Charter Magic have a Charter Mark drawn on their forehead at birth. Marks unsullied by Free Magic are used to identify true Charter Mages (as opposed to Free Magic sorcerers or constructs in disguise).

The Five Great Charters:

In Sabriel, the Five Great Charters are identified by a song:

Five Great Charters knit the land.
Together linked, hand in hand.
One in the people who wear the Crown.
Two in the folk who keep the Dead down.
Three and Five became stone and mortar.
Four sees all in frozen water.

This rhyme dictates that at some point in history the Five Great Charters poured their power into physical objects, or human bloodlines. The bloodlines are those of the royals, the Abhorsen, the Clayr, and the Wallmakers. At some point after this, the entire Wallmaker line decided to pour all their power and into physical objects, when "blood was judged to be too easily diluted, or lead astray". They completely consumed themselves in the process, physically becoming their creations - the Great Charter Stones and the Wall that separates the Old Kingdom from Ancelstierre. The Great Charter Stones are located in an underground reservoir in the Old Kingdom capital, Belisaere, and are the sources of Charter Magic in the Old Kingdom. Due in part to the influence of the Wall, magic, both Free and Charter, exists only in the Old Kingdom; but can be practised in northern Ancelstierre, and further south if there is a strong wind from the Old Kingdom.


Strictly speaking, there are five basic supernal creatures in the Old Kingdom series:

The Dead: Broadly speaking, the Dead are once-living spirits with both the inclination and the ability to resist the river of Death. Though a very rare few emerge into Life on their own power, most must be summoned by a necromancer or emerge near a broken Charter Stone (where the Charter's influence has been severely diminished, creating a "door into Death") or spirit rift (if many deaths occur in a given region). All Dead are averse to running water, and most are unable to withstand direct sunlight, which destroy the magic keeping them in Life.

There are two classes of Dead: Lesser and Greater. The Greater Dead are usually represented by Dead from beyond the Fifth Gate (spirits from the deeper realms of Death and correspondingly more powerful). These creatures are much more difficult to either bind or destroy. Examples of the Greater Dead include Chlorr of the Mask (a former necromancer, implied a former Abhorsen), Laefal the Abomination (banished beyond the 9th Gate by the Abhorsen-in-waiting, Lirael, during her travels in Death), and Kerrigor (a crown-prince desirous of immortality and dominance). Greater Dead, such as Fifth-Gate Resters or Dead Adepts, may exist in Life without a physical body (making them much more difficult to destroy).

The Lesser Dead, refers to such creatures as Dead Hands, Ghlims, Mordauts, and Gore Crows. These creatures must find or receive a body in order to return to Life. Shadow Hands are specialized Hands (more intelligent and dangerous than the usual 'Hand') that do not require a physical body. Lesser Dead may be incapacitated by immersing them in running water or by destroying their physical bodies with Charter Magic or explosives. Shadow Hands, by contrast, are impossible to harm by strictly physical means, but may be unraveled by specialized Charter Magic spells or returned to Death by means of the necromantic bells. Most Dead prey on the living to remain in Life.

Constructs: Free Magic constructs are worn by Free Magic elementals or powerful Dead spirits (such as Kerrigor) and used as a disguise or avatar for the elemental or spirit within. Free Magic constructs are usually formed from a mixture of dead animals and inorganic matter. One such construct was used as a disguise for a Free Magic elemental; it was made from "Free Magic and the flesh of swine". Another example is a Ferenk, ancient scavengers composed of stone and mud. Though such constructs may be destroyed, destroying the Elemental itself is much more difficult and typically the province of Free Magic.

Mordicants: These are fiery constructs of bog-clay and blood, animated by Free Magic and guided by a Greater Dead spirit able to move between Life and Death at will. They are fierce combatants, and seem to have enhanced senses, able to track specific targets over hundreds of miles, resisting direct sunlight to do so. The word mordicant comes from a Latin term meaning gnawing.[4]

Free Magic Elementals: These are free-willed beings wholly composed of Free Magic. The most common elementals belong to specific "breeds" (such as Stilken, Magrue, Jerreq, or Hish), while the most powerful are unique, or "of a singular nature". Though "many thousands" of Free Magic Elementals escaped the creation of the Charter, most were later imprisoned or enslaved by it. Of the remainder, "no truly dangerous creature of Free Magic has woken in a thousand years, save to the sound of Mosrael and Saraneth, or by a direct summons using their secret names". Some cannot be destroyed except by a Free Magic sorcerer more powerful than they, or by immersion in running water (though Free Magic creatures of the Third Kindred, or those infused with the essence of the Nine, are exempt from this rule). Charter Magic is typically ineffectual: the power of the Charter is in binding, not destruction, and each Free Magic being must be bound in a specific way.

Charter Sendings: Charter Sendings are servants or sentries constructed entirely of Charter Marks. Many may only act within a given function, which can be of indefinite complexity. Certain fixtures excepted (such as a surcoat or insignia), Charter Sendings do not possess a concrete physical shape, and derive identity primarily from their function. They are capable of emotive response, but show little desire except to fulfill their mandates.

The Bells[edit]

The bells of necromancy are seven eponymous bells used by necromancers to control the Dead, named after the Seven Bright Shiners who invested themselves in the Charter. From smallest to largest they are:

Ranna, the Sleeper, prompting drowsiness in the auditor;

Mosrael, the Waker, transmitting the ringer further into Death but the auditor into Life;

Kibeth, the Walker, which can give the Dead freedom of movement or force them to walk according to the ringer's intention;

Dyrim, the Speaker, used either to revive or annul the hearer's ability to speak;

Belgaer, the Thinker, used to restore or remove memory;

Saraneth, the Binder, a favorite of the Abhorsens, used to control the Dead directly; and

Astarael, the Weeper, also named Sorrowful, which sends both ringer and auditor far into Death.

Each bell has a specific power over the Dead and Free Magic creatures, and if used by a skilled necromancer, also on living people. An errant or improper ring can affect the caster instead of the target, or cause other adverse effects. The Abhorsens' bells are a "free-willed blend of Charter and Free Magic", though the spells they cast are "pure Free Magic".

The Nine Bright Shiners[edit]

The most advanced and powerful Free Magic elementals, of which seven created the Charter and are represented by the necromancers' bells. Of the remaining two, Yrael chose neutrality and later became Mogget, the Abhorsens' companion. Orannis, "last and mightiest of the Nine", opposed the Charter and was imprisoned by the Seven. According to "An Extract of the Journal of Idrach the Lesser Necromancer", a text posted on the series' website, the correlation of the Seven and the necromantic bells includes the Precincts of Death, with each bell equalling a specific Precinct. This would suggest that the additional precincts are related to the 8th and 9th "Bright Shiners", with the Third Precinct presumably Yrael's and the Ninth belonging to Orannis.

Because Astarael appears under Abhorsen's House and Kibeth as the Disreputable Dog, it can be inferred that Ranna, Mosrael, Dyrim, Belgaer, and Saraneth became the Five Great Charters. It is arguable also that Saraneth and Ranna invested themselves in the Abhorsen and Clayr bloodlines; but the Abhorsens are referred to as "Astarael's get" in The Creature in the Case, and Astarael herself appears (as said before) under the Abhorsens' center of operation, which Kibeth identifies as the likeliest of her locations. Neither the song about the Great Charters nor the bells chosen by the various representatives of the Charter in the second binding of Orannis (Book 3) should indicate the disposition of the Seven within the Charter, given that these choices were motivated primarily by each person's history and personal preferences (as when Touchstone chooses Ranna for his long suspended animation).

Yrael, also known as Mogget, initially refused to take a side for or against Orannis, and was therefore later enslaved to the Abhorsen by the other immortals. Whenever unbound, he tries to kill the current Abhorsen; however, during Orannis' second binding, he assists in the binding ritual. To Sabriel, Lirael, and Sameth, Mogget appears as a small white cat; to Terciel, Sabriel's father and predecessor as Abhorsen, Mogget adopted a different (unknown) name and appeared as an albino dwarf. Mogget cannot use his dwarf-form without the permission of the current Abhorsen or Abhorsen-in-Waiting: Jerizael, the forty-eighth Abhorsen, forbade him from doing so for reasons unknown. At the end of the series, he re-appears as a cat.

In Lirael, when Orannis possesses Nicholas Sayre and speaks to the necromancer Hedge, the story of the Binding is told in song:

I'll sing you a song of the long ago.
Seven shine the Shiners, oh!
What did the Seven do way back when?
Why, they wove the Charter then!
Five for the warp, from beginning to end.
Two for the woof, to make and mend.
That's the Seven, but what of the Nine--
What of the two that chose not to shine?
The Eighth did hide, hide all away,
But the Seven caught him and made him pay.
The Ninth was strong and fought with might,
But lone Orannis was put out of the light,
Broken in two and buried under hill,
Forever to lie there wishing us ill.


Death is described as an infinitely wide river, spanning the horizons. Almost everything in Death is a bleak grey, and a subtle grey fogginess limits visibility. The river may also contain and conceal hostile dead beings, who attack living travelers. Only Abhorsens, Remembrancers, or Free Magic Necromancers can cross the boundary at will. Dead spirits can cross only when aided by a Necromancer, or when the border is weakened by a concentration of (often violent) deaths.

Death consists of Nine Precincts divided by Nine Gates, through which a grey river flows. Dexterity and great willpower are required to resist the current, which is psychological as well as physical. There exists a Free Magic spell by which Abhorsens and Necromancers can easily pass back through Gates; Dead cannot do so unless they are very powerful. Each Precinct contains a different peril.

The First Precinct is mostly knee-deep water, but has eddies and pools dangerous to the interloper. It can be thought of as the entrance to Death. Its Gate is a huge waterfall.

The Second Precinct has pitfalls throughout its domain and low visibility; its Gate is a whirlpool.

The Third Precinct has slightly warmer ankle-deep water and visibility is slightly improved. Periodic, irresistible waves carry dead creatures through the Gate (a wall of mist), often beyond the final Ninth Gate.

The Fourth Precinct has a low concentration of Dead, as most of those who reach it have been stunned by the Third Precinct's waves, and are carried easily to the dangerous and deceptively short waterfall that comprises its Gate.

The Fifth Precinct is too deep to wade, and must be crossed by a thin black bridge that frequently attracts dead creatures. The water in the Fifth Precinct has strong mutagenic properties, and is implied to be partially responsible for the monstrous appearance of some Greater Dead and necromancers. The Gate is a vertical river rising from the floor.

The Sixth Precinct has no current, and its water is present as a shallow pool. There are many Dead creatures in this Precinct, some of whom are Greater Dead. The Gate has no substance and can appear anywhere, but appears as a lift bordered by a cylinder of water.

The Seventh Precinct is not described, though presumably it is similar to the First and Fourth Precincts. Its Gate is a line of fire that stretches across the river.

The Eighth Precinct resembles the First and Fourth, but interspersed with flashes of fire. The Eighth Gate is a wall of darkness, which needs a spell to send a necromancer into the Ninth Precinct.

The Ninth Precinct is an endless pool of deep, still, clear water. It is warmer than the other precincts and there is no fog, allowing a necromancer to see in every direction. The Ninth Gate, resembling a starry sky, confirms the final death of any who look upon it, except those to whom remain a native span of years. Those claimed by the Gate rise at varying speeds and vanish, never to return.



The Abhorsens are the ancestry whose charge is maintaining the border between life and death, though inheritance is not always direct; the next Abhorsen could be a niece or cousin or sibling, rather than the current Abhorsen's child. The Abhorsen combines Charter Magic and Free Magic in his/her bells to control the dead, righting the wrongs created by Necromancers or Free Magic organisms. The Abhorsens' stronghold, called Abhorsen's House, is located on an island in close proximity to a great waterfall; the associated rapids complement the magical wards of the House in keeping the Dead from accessing it. In Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case, the antagonist Hrule calls them "Astarael's get". The origin of the name "Abhorsen", according to Garth Nix, is the name of the executioner from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, "Abhorson".

The Clayr[edit]

The Clayr are an oracular group composed nearly entirely of women, who live in a snowy mountain called the Clayr's Glacier, located in the northern part of the Old Kingdom. Nearly all are beautiful and possess nut-brown skin, very pale blond hair, and eyes of blue or green. The Glacier is also home to the Great Library of the Clayr, which is a library filled with many lost treasures and horrors, such as the Stilken and the Disreputable Dog found by Lirael. Due to the Clayr's precognitive Sight, there are often rooms created for events which will unfold decades or centuries down the line, such as the room in which Lirael discovers her fate.


The Old Kingdom[edit]

The Old Kingdom is the setting for most of the series. It is implied that the Old Kingdom exists in a separate dimension or reality than the rest of the planet, in particular the nation on its southern border, Ancelstierre. Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom travel differently through time, with the hour of the day and the season of the year rarely in synchrony; therefore it is possible for one to spend more time in the Old Kingdom than is absent from Ancelstierre.

Two hundred years before Sabriel, the reigning Queen and her two daughters were murdered by Kerrigor and their blood used to break two of the six Great Charter Stones. This event was followed by two hundred years of interregnum, 180 years of regency first and 20 years of anarchy following the death of the last Regent.


It has been suggested, in a question/answer section of Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories, by the Disreputable Dog (in Lirael),[5] and some online sources that The Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre are two different universes/worlds, that overlap slightly at the area known as the Wall. The Old Kingdom also has a northern border which is a river gorge, much farther north than The Clayr's Glacier, where it impinges on another world.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d ISFDB defines novels and short fiction by word count, same as the American Science Fiction Writers. For example, a novella is 17,000 to 40,000 words.


  1. ^ a b c d e The Old Kingdom–Abhorsen series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2012-05-31. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  2. ^ oldkingdom.com.au – An Extract of the Journal of Idrach the Lesser Necromancer
  3. ^ "Secret Projects". Writer in Residence, insideadog.com. February 10, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-18. 
  4. ^ "mordicant". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. 
  5. ^ Nix, Garth (2004). Lirael, daughter of the Clayr. London: HarperCollins Children's Books. ISBN 9780007137336. 
  6. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". garthnix.com. Retrieved January 16, 2012. 

External links[edit]

Garth Nix at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database