Stepping Past the First Gate with The Old Kingdom Series

There were—and are—many stories that inspired me to dive into writing, and specifically writing fantasy. From THE LORD OF THE RINGS to THE WHEEL OF TIME, these are expansive universes filled with heroes and villains, wild magic and desperate battles. But few stories made me feel like writing was an actual thing I could do than the Old Kingdom Series by Garth Nix.

I first discovered Garth Nix in high school thanks to my friends Jessie and Rachael. We would meet up with our group of misfit girls in the half hour before school began, trading weather-beaten copies of books back and forth. But the one that captured my imagination the most was SABRIEL.

It was the story of a young woman with a dark family legacy. Her father was the Abhorsen, a necromancer by trade, yes, but a good one. For it was his job to put the dead down in a kingdom without a monarch, without order. But when he disappears, the heavy mantle of Abhorsen, and the weight of its legacy falls to Sabriel. The teenage girl sets out into the wilds of The Old Kingdom, searching for her father and claiming the birthright of Abhorsen as her own.


Sabriel was a character I’d never seen before. She wasn’t waiting for some hero to save her from the darkness of the world—she was the hero. And while her journey was one of self-discovery, it wasn’t one that came out of personal weakness. She was no wilting flower, but a grit-her-teeth and get the job done hero. I’d never seen anyone quite like her before—I wanted to be her, and I wanted to write her. And I can truly say, that Askia would exist without Sabriel paving the way.


But Sabriel wasn’t the only Abhorsen in The Old Kingdom. The series continued with LIRAEL. If Sabriel was the young woman I wanted to be, Lirael was more like the young woman I was. Her story begins in such deep, deep sadness and the terrible and heartbreaking feeling of not belonging.

Lirael was the character who felt alone, even crowded around people. She wanted so badly to be like her legion of distant aunts and cousins, a vain desire that nearly breaks her. I can remember that feeling, and though I’ve moved past it, re-reading that story and the book that follows it, still brings me to tears—something that no book before it had ever done.


I had no idea, before reading LIRAEL, that books could contain such power. That mere words could encapsulate something I held in myself. It was a power I wanted to emulate, one that I strive for every time I sit down to write.

So, thank you, Sabriel. Thank you, Lirael. And thank you Garth Nix, for inspiring one young woman, half a world away, to fight the dark with the power of a pen.

Author: Greta Kelly

Greta Kelly is (probably) not a witch, death or otherwise, but she can still be summoned with offerings of too-beautiful-to-use journals and Butterfingers candy. Though she has travelled across the world, including brief stints living in Germany and Japan, life always kept bringing her back home to the Midwest. She currently lives in Wisconsin with her husband EJ, daughter Lorelei and a cat who may, or may not, control the weather. Her debut novel, The Frozen Crown, is forthcoming from Harper Voyager.