If you don't know already, I love zombies. Because of this, I was really, really looking forward to reading this book. And I really enjoyed it.
Sabriel, the character, is a bit complex. One the one hand, she's 18. She wants to be young and pretend responsibilities don't exist. Unfortunately, she can't do that. Her dad kills Dead things, and is bound to complete this service at the sacrifice of his own life (the kind with kids, a wife, a dog, white picket fence, etc), and from a young age, Sabriel was taught how to kill Dead things too in preparation for when she'd have to take his place. I'd say that this matures a person kind of quickly. So, while she WANTS to have fun, she knows that responsibilities come first.
She's been taught about the kinds of things her world has to offer, and they are not all pleasant. Learning how to walk in Death and kill Dead things does give one a little hint of Badassness. She's got a healthy amount of "OH Crap! It's Time To Run" in her pocket, but she's also got a goodish amount of "You Wanna Piece Of Me?!?" stashed away too. When it comes to it, she knows which pocket to go for.
I actually liked this trait in Sabriel. It's commendable to know when to stand and fight, and when you're outmatched. Sabriel is brave, but bravery is not the same as stubbornness.
So, about the zombies: They aren't called "zombies", but they are walking corpses, among other things. See, when living beings die, they pass into Death, and from there their spirit goes through a series of Gates, or stages of death. The usual, natural way of things, is to die, and have the spirit go through all 9 gates into permanent death. But some spirits aren't ready to die, so they either fight their way back on their own to inhabit a recently dead body, or they are called back as the servant of a necromancer. Either way, they aren't truly alive, and must feast on the living in order to keep the parasitic spirit in the host body, so to speak.
There are quite a few different kinds of Dead things, and I won't go into all of them, but they are all cool and different in their own way. Perfect for zombie lovers. :)
Anyway, moving on. I really loved the way that Sabriel's world is a mixture of medieval & modern. Well, sort of modern. They are just getting around to flying machines and films (black and white), but they, as most cultures do, have a wide range of weapons. Their scientific advances are more like the non-magical people's way of making life easier for themselves, kind of like how Muggles use 'eceltricity', except that the non-magic and the magic all co-exist in Sabriel's world, and there is no "EEEK! A WITCH!" reactions either. Anyway, the two (meaning magic and science, not magic people and non-magic people) cannot co-exist. Magic outranks science, and science gets all subservient and lays down with it's belly up.
I was a bit confused by the magic though... I don't really get how Free Magic is the "bastardization" of Charter magic. I would think that Free Magic would have come first, seeing as how magic has to originate somewhere in order to be learned, tamed, organized and formed into the Charter. But then maybe I am looking at it the wrong way - maybe "Free Magic" is magic that originated within the Charter and broke free of the rules when it went "bad". I don't know.
One thing that I did notice, and I'm not sure how intentional this was, is that the Charter seems almost as if it is a form of religion, only without the figurehead worship. They abide by the rules or laws of the Charter, swear by it, baptize with it, etc. What I mean by wondering if it is intentional is if it was supposed to take the place of a religion, or if the Charter is just the prevailing source of power. I don't know anything about Nix's religious views, so I won't wager a guess.
Anyway, I did like this, and I look forward to the other books in the series, even though I hear that they are only related to Sabriel, and not a true sequel. I'll keep you posted! :)