Review of MAGYK: SEPTIMUS HEAP, BOOK 1 by Angie Sage
Katherine Tegen/Harper Trophy, March 2006
Ordinary Wizard Silas Heap discovers a baby girl while returning to his family home. With the loss of his own son (and under instructions from ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia), Heap brings the girl into his family and raises her. Times are tough, however, especially for wizards. The Queen has been assassinated and the city taken over by evil forces who are trying to wipe out wizards and raising an army of young boys to obey their every command. Although Silas tries to keep the girl a secret, eventually Jenna is discovered--as princess and legitimate heir to the thrown.
Chased by an evil Hunter, Silas, Jenna, assorted Heap family members, Marcia and one of the young army soldiers Marcia has rescued make their escape. Marcia's magic can protect them to a certain extent, but the evil powers are strong--and soon Marcia is the ex-ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Final control depends on getting Jenna and when Marcia is captured, it looks like the end.
Author Angie Sage follows a familiar path in this fantasy and beginning of a series. The secret princess, the supposedly dead but surely still living (as the series is named after him) Septimus Heap, seventh son of a seventh son, the evil Hunter and magical overlord all call fairy tales to mind. In a book targeting younger readers, walking the familiar road isn't that much of a liability--after all, young readers like the assurance of the known and safe. For me, the bigger problem is that the action isn't driven by the protagonists at all. Jenna and Boy 412 huddle in a cottage in the swamp, waiting, while the evil forces plot (ineffectually). With Jenna and Boy 412 spending most of their time waiting (and Boy 412 only starts talking in the last few pages of the story), we're left with a messenger rat as the most sympathetic and active character--and he's used by the evil overlord.
MAGYK isn't a bad book--it's competently written, with some funny description, an interesting character in Marcia, a tragic figure in 'the apprentice' and the kind of safe danger that young readers will resonate with. I don't think it's the kind of books that will create the cross-over appeal with adult readers the way the Harry Potter series did.
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