Septimus Heap #1: Magyk by Angie Sage

Ages 9 and up

The beginning of young Septimus Heap’s life started out with promise. He is the seventh son of a seventh son. A child guaranteed to be very magykal. That is, until he dies only a few hours into his short life. With no time to mourn his family must take in a foundling infant girl, whom they name Jenna. Ten years pass and Jenna is revealed to be the long lost princess,  born on the same day as the Heap child’s birth and her mother, the Queen’s, death. Her life of hiding with the Heaps, is thrown into upheaval when the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand, arrives to divulge the secrets of her birth and to whisk her away before the Supreme Custodian’s Assassin can find her. Fleeing with Marcia, her brother Nicko, her father, Maxie the wolfhound and the mysterious Boy 412, Jenna and her family find themselves in hiding from DomDaniel. DomDaniel, ex-ExtraOrdinary Wizard and practicer of Darke Magyk wants Jenna dead so that he will have no contest for the rule of the small kingdom. If she is to live, Jenna must outsmart the Assassin, the Hunter, DomDaniel’s Apprentice and even DomDaniel himself. And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, her long “dead” brother may still be alive. Is Septimus really alive? And if he is, is he really who he claims to be?

The Septimus Heap series is one that has been taunting me for ages. Every time I would go to my library I’d see book two or book three, and I knew I wanted to read them. The covers were just too much fun to pass them up (I don’t usually read a book specifically because of the cover, I believe this is a first). But try as I might, I could never find book one at my library. And then I got my Nook e-reader. Among my favorite features is Free Fridays. Guess what book was the first Free Friday book the week I go my e-reader.

Right off the bat, things were interesting. I mean, the main character was pronounced dead by page 12. Which meant one of two things: this was a ghost story (unlikely because ghosts don’t age and a story about an infant doesn’t promise to be interesting) or not everything was as it seemed. And then there is the death of the queen and the (quickly solved) mystery surrounding Jenna’s real parentage. All-in-all there were the makings of a good story. And it was a good story.

Sage tells the story using a host of characters. All of whom have at least one or two traits that define them. The multitude of the characters doesn’t get confusing, which is the tendency in books with a lot of minor characters. And part of that is because she uses her minor characters just as well as she uses her main characters. They get integrated into the plot. They get reused at least once. And some of them, like Boy 412 and Stanley the Message Rat, end up becoming major characters (okay, maybe Stanley wasn’t a major character, but he was important).

The world of the book and the way the book is written are also tied together. Of course it’s a world with magic–I mean, “Magyk”. But that magic is ornery and doesn’t always do what you think it will do. So too with the plot. You kind of know where the story is going, but it doesn’t take you straight there. It’s more like the wizards described in the book. It like to go on tangents. It kind of reminds me of me telling a story to a friend. I’m constantly stopping to explain important things. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because you it’s fun to learn about this little world. It’s a bad thing because the story tends to ramble, heading every which way until it sort of focuses for the climax.

There was, unfortunately, a lack of urgency for me when I read the book. Don’t get me wrong, it was good and never boring, but it never grabbed me. I never got to that point where putting the book down was painful. Part of that might have to do with the fact that I am an adult reading a book written for middle-schoolers (actually, now that I think about it, it probably has a lot to do with it). The expected reveal of Sepitmus’ identity was probably the most compelling reason to read (cause I wanted to see if I was right…I was). The way each big bad was taken care was also slightly anti-climactic, something  I hope changes with the next five books. It kind gave Magyk the feeling of  being an intro book, with the real action to come in subsequent books.

By far, my favorite part of the book was how the narrative was handled. It was unabashedly an omniscient narrator. A great deal of the book was from Jenna’s point of view, however, it often broke off to another person’s viewpoint. We get a sense of the whole story. We’re shown all the pieces that we need to understand exactly what the stakes are. One minute we’re with Jenna in her aunt’s cottage, the next we’re watching the Supreme Custodian or DomDaniel as they plot how to get their hands on her. Usually changing viewpoint in the way that Sage does (sometimes in the middle of the chapter) is a big no-no, but in this book it just works. It flows.  And it’s clear. You are always aware of when the character focus shifts, but it’s not jarring.

This is definitely a book aimed at preteens. The way the book is written, the constant shift in point of view, the myriad of absurdly quirky characters, and the comical bad guys all land Magyk in the 9-12 age range. It’s good, clean fun that would a make a great read-aloud book with the whole family (hey, the younger you start, the more likely they are to become book addicts). It’s even suitable for the younger children in the family if they have someone who will read it to/with them. I look forward to discovering the next few books.

This is a good example of:

  • Omniscient narrative
  • Use of minor characters
  • Middle school fiction
  • World building
  • Tying world’s history into the plot