Sunday, April 6, 2008

Angie Sage

The Septimus Heap Series
by Angie Sage
Recommended Age: 12+


As his name would suggest, Septimus Heap is a seventh son – and so is his father, Silas Heap, who supports his large family by working as an Ordinary Wizard. Much is to be expected of the seventh son of a seventh son, particularly in a family full of wizards. But only hours after Septimus is born, a midwife declares him dead and bundles his little body away. His mother has scarcely begun to grieve when Silas returns from collecting herbs... and puts a foundling baby girl in her lap.

Jenna grows up thinking the six older Heap boys are her brothers. Even though she looks like none of them, and does not share their wizarding powers, she is accepted as part of the family. But mysteries surround the day of her birth – mysteries like the assassination of the Queen and the Extraordinary Wizard who stood by her – mysteries like the disappearance of a newborn princess. Meanwhile, the Castle where the Heaps live has been taken over by the harsh Custodian Army, magic has been outlawed, and the Heaps struggle more and more to survive.

Finally the day comes when the secret is finally revealed. Jenna is the lost princess. And now her life is in danger from the Custodian Army, and especially from a fallen wizard named DomDaniel who wants her out of his way. The Heaps scatter for dear life, accompanied by a ghost, the Supreme Wizard, and a member of the Young Army who knows no name other than Boy 412.

Jenna finds herself in the care of a White Witch aunt, surrounded by creatures of the swamp, menaced by DomDaniel’s magic and minions, and betrayed by not one but two boy wizards who call themselves Heap. She comes more and more to depend on a boy wizard who would rather be a sailor, and on a boy soldier who is turning out to be a great wizard. But in the final face-off against DomDaniel, her fate will depend on a buried secret and the true fate of Septimus Heap.

This is a wonderful book, full of charming characters, quirky magic, suspense, intrigue, humor, and pathos. Angie Sage has invented an original world, with its own unique flaws, dangers, beauties, and legends. The story has the outlines of a classic fairy tale, combined with a wealth of detail that could appeal directly to Harry Potter fans – including a description of what it might be like to “grow up Weasley.” And if you are restless to go on with the series, Book Two is titled Flyte.


If you like the Weasley family from Harry Potter, you just have to love the Heaps from this ongoing fantasy series, set mostly in a sprawling castle surrounded by rivers, farmland, marshes, and spooky mountains. In Book One, Magyk, you were gradually introduced to the main character of the series: Septimus Heap, seventh son of a seventh son, and now (as Book Two begins) apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand.

Though he lives in the Wizard Tower, Septimus is not far from his newly recovered family, who, like the Weasleys, consist of a strong-willed, worrying mother; a brave but slightly scatter-brained father; and a chaotic jumble of siblings who have the same hair but widely varying personalities. Four of the Heap sons are living a wild life, having gone native in the forest across the river. One of them, Nikko, still likes to mess about in boats and lives with Mom and Dad, though they have moved houses to the castle as befits their foster daughter, the Princess Jenna. That leaves one other sibling, oldest brother Simon, who has taken the Percy Weasley path to its uttermost extreme: pure evil.

When we last saw Simon, he was throwing a hissy fit because the apprenticeship he coveted was given to a boy who was suddenly supposed to be his brother—a relationship he refused to accept. Now Simon is back and drenched in Darke Magyk, having apprenticed himself to the most evil necromancer who ever lived: Dom Daniel. Simon has a fiendish plot afoot, having something to do with a menacing shadow that keeps following Marcia Overstrand around, and something to do with kidnapping Jenna and preventing her from making her annual visit to the Dragon Boat—one of the things that keeps the castle’s magical defenses going.

If Simon thought he could simply ride into the Castle and kidnap the princess, he clearly wasn’t thinking very clearly. He wasn’t thinking about Jenna’s resourcefulness and instinct for royal command. He wasn’t thinking about the rapidly-growing powers of his youngest brother. And he also wasn’t thinking clearly about the type of master he had given himself to serve.

If it made you miserable to see Percy going bad, just wait until you see Simon giving his heart to absolute wickedness. It’s heartbreaking. The inspiring side of the story is how Septimus somehow doesn’t give up on him, even when defeating the bad guy means escaping from a coven of cannibalistic witches, facing his worst fear, retracing his steps to a place where he once experienced pure terror, and making hair-raising journeys above and below ground. Though you would like to hope that redemption is possible for the “black Heap of the family,” perhaps it is encouraging enough that Septimus chooses to hold out the same hope.


Book Three of the Septimus Heap series embroils its young hero, the apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, in a wholly new adventure that involves kidnapping, time travel, alchemy (or, in this book's parlance, Alchemie), restless ghosts, a mysterious plague, rampaging mobs, an assassination plot, a youthful romance, a young dragon's first flame, a shape-changing animal, secret passages, magical mirrors (or glasses, rather), and a terrible sacrifice. In other words, it has everything you are hungry for after digesting the last Harry Potter book!

It all begins when Septimus Heap's father - ordinary wizard Silas Heap - foolishly opens a "Sealed" room in the palace attic. In so doing, he unwittingly raises the 500-year-old ghost of the Castle's most awful ruler ever: Queen Etheldredda. Soon afterward a plague breaks out in the Castle, which by a remarkable chain of events leads to the Princess Jenna being driven out of her own city by an unruly mob. Jenna flees on the back of the young dragon that has bonded with her brother Sep, who has been snatched before her eyes by an ancient creature on the other side of a mirror. Meanwhile, Marcia (the ExtraOrdinary Wizard) receives a letter from Septimus from 500 years in the past.

It soon appears that the only way to save the apprentice is to go "through the looking-glass" to a strange and disturbing time - a time when Queen Etheldredda sought to extend her rule by murdering her own heirs - a time when a man similar to Nicolas Flamel has learned the secret both of unlimited wealth and of endless life - a time in which Jenna and her friends may be trapped themselves, or worse. And since Jenna looks exactly like a princess the Queen has already disposed of, things could grow a great deal worse!

In this story, we see Septimus Heap advance to a level of maturity and knowledge surprising in one his age. We see Jenna come into a bit more of her royal destiny. We see new villains emerge into the foreground, while old ones lurk just out of sight. We see many old friends still being themselves - more so than ever. We see young lovers brought together for the first time, long-separated couples reunited, and loved ones separated by a seemingly unbridgeable gulf - and left that way, for another tale to tell what becomes of them. And we see loads of magic, danger, discovery, and adventure on land and water, replete with just enough confusing running about to keep you guessing about the real plot that marches steadily through all.

Keep your eyes peeled for Book Four, titled Queste. EDIT: Sage is also the author of the Araminta Spookie series, currently standing at 5 books, and the picture books Molly and the Party and Molly at the Dentist.

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