Thursday, January 23, 2014

Magyk

Angie Sage's Septimus Heap series came out just after I stopped reading children's books, so I ignored it for years - but in December, when I was turning to children's books as a break from the intense studying, I picked up the first one in the series on a whim.  I can't even tell you how much I loved it.  Magyk was amazing!  It was almost like the first time I read each of the Harry Potter books - I had the same sense of wonder and glee and appreciation.  Like the Harry Potter books, there was such a fantastically matter-of-fact introduction to each new element in this magical world, but you could tell the author was enjoying telling you about them.  It was also (and again like HP) so delightfully full of references: literary, historical, and even Scriptural.  Galen!  The Witch of Endor!  There and Back Again Row!  And brilliantly, even Harry Potter references - Sage no doubt knew her books would be compared with Rowling's, and tossed in playful nods to her model.

Magyk is a long book (564 pages), but the pages themselves are short and the story so engaging that I found myself speeding through and always eager to return when I had to put the book down.  It's a fairly complex plot with a large cast of characters, almost all of which are instantly individualized - Sage is fantastic at getting across the feel of a character in just a few seemingly innocuous sentences.  I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just share the initial set-up: on the same night that the Wizard Silas Heap's seventh son Septimus dies, Silas discovers an infant girl freezing in the woods and adopts her.  Shortly after, the Queen of this city, called Castle, turns up dead and a Supreme Custodian is installed, who quickly turns Castle into a totalitarian state, all in the service of a Darke wizard who wants to take over.  Pretty soon, the adventure begins for Silas, his adopted daughter Jenna, Jenna's brother Nicko,  the current ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand, and somehow, Boy 412 of the Young Army, who gets unwillingly caught up in it all.

As secrets are discovered, our enterprising cast of characters flee to the nearby marsh to escape the Supreme Custodian, the Darke wizard DomDaniel, who was formerly the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, DomDaniel's Apprentice, and the murderous Hunter.  It's a dangerous adventure, but they are aided by a wonderfully quirky set of friends, including Aunt Zelda, who lives in the marsh, the now-dead former ExtraOrdinary Wizard Alther (who's now a ghost), the marsh Boggart, and even a Message Rat (Sage's nod to Rowling's mail owls).

Despite the obvious nature of many of the surprises - this is a children's book, after all - and the ongoing annoyance of all magical spells being given in Bold, Magyk was a hugely engaging and spectacular funny read.  Though it had nothing to do with the plot (or perhaps because of its gratuitous nature!), this was my favorite passage.  By this point, DomDaniel has taken over the Wizard Tower and annexed Marcia's apartment for his own.  The ghost Alther decides to cause a little trouble...

Back at the Tower, the Apprentice had stumbled to the sofa and fallen into a cold and unhappy sleep.  Alther took pity on him and kept the fire going.  While the boy slept, the ghost also took the opportunity of Causing a few more changes.  He loosened the heavy canopy above the bed so that it was hanging only by a thread.  He took the wicks out of all the candles.  He added a murky green color to the water tanks and installed a large, aggressive family of cockroaches in the kitchen.  He put an irritable rat under the floorboards and loosened all the joints of the most comfortable chairs.  And then, as an afterthought, he exchanged DomDaniel's stiff black cylindrical hat, which lay abandoned on the bed, for one just a little bigger. (181-182)

7 comments:

  1. My eldest daughter bought this book... and at least a few of the others in the series but I've never had a look at them. I will admit to the possibility of a subconscious prejudice as a result of the unappealing covers! I will have to take a closer look after reading this review. Thanks for helping me break through my snobbishness :)

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    1. Aww, you don't like the covers? I actually kind of dig them - they look like what I imagine a Hogwarts textbook would look like (and perhaps similar to the Monster Book of Monsters, except without fangs...) I hope you'll give it a try (but of course don't feel any obligation to keep on with it if it's not your cup of tea)!

      Does she like them? I have to admit to a little bit of jealousy - no one else in my family reads the same kind of fiction that I do, so I never have anyone to discuss my books with!

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    2. Yes, she loved them, and bought them with her own money. I've never really talked to her about them actually. I see that she follows you on her own blog; I think I directed her your way knowing she would enjoy your reviews (http://thebooknookjournal.blogspot.ca/). We do enjoy talking about books a lot although she's not really into Classic Canadian texts and I'm not really into vampires ;)

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    3. Thanks so much for sharing the link - I'm tickled to be linked on someone else's blog, and really looking forward to reading her thoughts!

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  2. I really loved this book! I was actually thinking of reviewing it for my blog because I was rereading it over the summer. Although you are right about the bold words, they were a little annoying. Thanks for the comment on my Blog! Historical Fiction and Fantasy are my favourite genres. Although Mom (Lee-Anne) you make it seem like I read Twilight. I don't read Twilight. Don't tell people I read Twilight! I just like Fantasy, Supernatural, Ghost, Magic, Folklore Fairy Tale sorts of stories!

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    1. Here's a confession: I read all the Twilight books!

      I hope you've come across the Enchanted Forest Chronicles - they were some of my absolute favorites (and now that I think about it, it's time for a re-read...) The heroine of the first book, Dealing with Dragons, is one of the best female leads I've ever come across.

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    2. We discovered Cimorene as a family when we listened to the audiotape of Dealing with Dragons on a trip to British Columbia in 2005. Such a terrific series! Although I think the earlier books were much stronger than the later. Glad you've discovered her too.

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