Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book review - Septimus Heap

In the crowded world of juvenile fantasy literature, Angie Sage has crafted a story worth looking at in the Septimus Heap series, beginning with Book 1: Magyk

This is a series for those looking for something to read after Harry Potter -- or perhaps better, for "tween" age kids whose parents are a bit reluctant to let them read the progressively darker books in the Potter series.  It's creative enough that it's not fair to label it a Harry rip-off, although some of the same elements are present: orphan (or apparent orphan) with phenomenal talent, evil Darke lord plotting a comeback, numerous supporting characters with endearing comic qualities.  The Darke characters are buffoonish and incompetent, the good ones are fully-developed and noble, even when they are eccentric.

Septimus Heap is the seventh son of Silas Heap, himself a seventh son.  But he is snatched away from his family as an infant by the midwife, who proclaims him dead.  At the same time, Silas finds an infant baby girl abandoned outside the castle, and is cautioned to raise her as his own and never tell how he found her by the new ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand.  We figure out fairly early on that the baby girl is a disinherited princess and that Septimus Heap will return... although when and how is the main subject of Book 1.

Archaic spellings and font usage give visual interest; clever word coinage and a deft, age-appropriate sense of humor tie it together.  I listened to this book as an audiobook read by Alan Corduner: his narration, as it has been in every other audiobook I've heard him in, is superb.

Book 2: Flyte, takes up the story a year later.  Princess Jenna has been restored as queen-in-waiting, Septimus is apprenticed to Marcia Overstrand, and the plot revolves around Septimus' oldest brother, Simon, who has apprenticed himself to the evil necromancer Dom Daniel, and various attempts to do away with Jenna and Marcia and bring back Dom Daniel.  More episodic than the first book, this one also includes a dragon hatchling and a lost spell for the ancient art of Flyte.  The mood stays light, even though there are skeletons trying to come back from the dead and ghosts (who don't make very good castle guards because an enemy can ride right through them).  I'm looking forward to reading further books in this series and reporting on them.

The Cedar Tree Spring program was yesterday evening.  The kindergarten class gets cuter every year.  You really must come and see them perform the Wiggle Worm song some year... sadly, no Youtube videos of that exist yet.  It's exciting to see the entire curriculum come together.  We have come a very long way in the 11 years I've been teaching there.  We have a young man in our Junior class, my son's good friend, who will be travelling to Washington D.C. to represent Washington State at the national finals of the Poetry Out Loud competition.  He recited Edgar Allen Poe's "Dream within a Dream."

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