If you've been following my kids' book reviews, you'll know I like the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage as a family-friendly, tween-friendly alternative to Harry Potter. Not that our family doesn't love the Harry books, but they start at tween-level and get progressively darker and more YA over the course of 7 books, leading many parents who had no problem with books 1-3 to be reluctant to give the go-ahead for books 4-7. This is not a problem with the Septimus Heap books, and they have many of the same positive attributes: quirky and well-developed characters, inventive plots, a sense of playfulness with language, and a judicious amount of humor. I remain pleased with the series after reading its 5th installment, Syren. (The 6th book, Darke, is coming out soon).
Septimus Heap travels away from the Small Wet Country where he lives to transport back some friends. In the process, he has adventures and meets new friends, and has to counter a dastardly plot to overthrow the Castle and Wizard's Tower. Some of the old conventions of children's literature are called in: the few adults/authority figures are distant, clueless, too busy to notice, or all three. Villains are scary and evil, but not too scary and evil, and they can be outdone by a clever child with the help of his friends. Hints of romantic interest are there for those who wish to know, but the story proceeds with a primary focus on friends and family.
Septimus and his brothers Nicko and Simon feature in this story, as well as Princess Jenna, Snorri, Marcia Overstrand, Beetle, the dragon Spit Fyre, Stanley the messenger rat, Wolf Boy (AKA Boy 409) and Aunt Zelda. Some of the fascinating new characters we meet are Syrah Syara, Miarr Catt, and Jim Knee the sullen jinnee. As with all of Sage's books, characters separate and reconverge in unpredictable but believable ways, and no loose ends are left hanging. Overall, very enjoyable, and there's room for the next two books to expand in other directions.