I was lent Sabriel by Garth Nix when I was around fifteen years old. My best friend at the time had really enjoyed the book as well as its sequel, Lirael, and I trusted her book recommendations. I don't remember if I immediately loved it as much as I do now, but I liked it enough to read the sequel and buy the third book in the trilogy when I realized it was already out. Actually, her little sister bought it for me and I can't remember why now! I still have that copy and I still think of her every time I see it on my bookshelf. The original release date for Sabriel was twenty years ago today, in Australia.
The first book follows the journey of Sabriel, a teenager in a fictional version of 20th-century England, as she re-enters her magical homeland: the Old Kingdom. There, she takes on the mantle of the Abhorsen, which is essentially a law-instated necromancer, as she searches for her father, the former Abhorsen, who went missing. Accompanying her on the journey is a magical creature that takes the form of a speaking cat, Mogget. Sabriel's tools of her trade include a bandolier of bells, each spelled for specific duties against Dead creatures arisen by rogue necromancers, a spelled sward, Charter magic, and the Book of the Dead.
The second and third books follow other character primarily, so I won't try to summarize those because I'd probably spoil something. I can say, however, that Lirael and Abhorsen take place somewhere around 20 years after the events of Sabriel. Sabriel does make an appearance in those books, but she's all grown-up *sniffle*.
The heroines in books whom I find most appealing tend to be very self-sufficient and courageous. Sabriel is no exception there. She doesn't always makes the right choices, sometimes she pays for those mistakes, but she always finds a way through on her own. There are very few situations in the book where I'd consider her "rescued" by anyone. I've found that my own choice of friends over the years tend to have similar qualities: passionate, self-reliant, often gregarious or extroverts. Sabriel is not entirely an extrovert, but she is able to speak up for herself and take lead when needed.
Over my many years living with and battling depression, I've learned over and over that there is no knight in shining armor to save you from the bad times. You have to do it yourself. Sabriel represents to me someone who can take on tremendous odds and conquer them. While my battles are usually mental and hers are usually physical (or magical), I still hold her as a sort of role model for strength and perseverance.
I recommend this book to anyone who remotely like fantasy novels, especially to teens, but really to everybody. There are a couple more books related with the trilogy as well, such as the recent release of Clariel, a prequel that takes place a couple of hundred years before the events of Sabriel, and some short stories in two separate collections (one comes out next month).