Let’s not beat around the bush. Angie Sage has clearly been inspired by the world of HARRY POTTER, which makes it somehow impossible to review her work without comparing it to J.K. Rowling. Since Rowling’s phenomenal series exploded across the world of publishing, there has been an onslaught of pre-adolescent youngsters with magical powers and unusual names popping up in the children’s sections of bookstores and libraries everywhere. CHARLIE BONE. PERCY JACKSON. ARTEMIS FOWL. And now, Septimus Heap. Considering the amount of lame Tolkien knock-offs that clutter up the fantasy genre, it’s a little depressing to see so many authors race to leap on the “boy-wizard” bandwagon. Although Magyk is a harmless enough read, it cannot help but pale in comparison to Rowling.
Silas Heap is returning home to his family when he comes across an infant girl alone in the woods. Returning her home, he arrives to find that in his absence his infant son has died. Ten years later, their adopted daughter is revealed to be Princess Jenna, now hunted by the evil necromancer DomDaniel who is systematically taking over the Castle and the surrounding countryside. Warned by the Extra-Ordinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand, the family split up in order to escape capture, picking up a young recruit of the Young Army on the way: Boy 412, who is entirely overwhelmed by his new situation.
On the whole, Magyk is an entertaining little read, with a brisk pace, lively tone and a couple of intriguing twists which may catch younger readers off guard (although mature readers will see them coming a mile away — it’s hard to believe a character is really dead when the book series is named after him). Despite the typical plot device of a lost princess and a ‘switched at birth’ scenario, there are a few original ideas that sparkle, particularly a Dragon Boat that is used to great effect at the climax. Mark Zug provides attractive penciled illustrations as headings for each chapter, and I liked the fact that the binding of this book actually matches a real book within the story.
Throughout the story there is not a clear main character, which means the plot is tugged around between several points-of-view which leads to poor character development for all save Boy 412. DomDaniel in particular makes for a rather dull villain. He rants, he raves, he throws temper tantrums, he sends incompetent minions out to do his dirty work, he falls asleep at inopportune moments… Voldemort would crush this idiot like a bug, but probably not before having the Death Eaters laugh at him for having such a silly name. Other characters are introduced only to serve no real purpose in the story itself (such as Jenna’s brothers, Sally Mullin, Morwenna Mould and a variety of pets), as do several spells and magical artifacts. One of the best things about Rowling’s series is that you knew that nearly every concept introduced into the plot would have major payoff later on in the story. That’s not the case here, and as such, aspects such as Jenna’s pet rock or Zelda’s cat-turned-duck feel like extraneous padding to the plot, with none of the whimsy that Rowling’s non-essential details held.
Speaking of which, there is so much here that seems based on Harry Potter, and not just in broad terms (evil wizard trying to take over wizarding community). The devil, as they say, is in the details. Jenna is the youngest of seven siblings, all boys (including twins). The name “Trelawney” is used as a surname. Animals are used to send messages (although here it’s rats instead of owls). There is an appearance from a boggart (vastly different in shape and form from Rowling’s boggarts, but couldn’t she have at least chosen a different name?). There is even an emphasis placed on the importance of green eyes that has an uncomfortable echo of Potter.
And because nothing is really resolved here, Magyk ultimately comes across as an elaborate setup to the next book. Okay, am I being too harsh here? Probably — this is, after all, a children’s book and most under-tens will heartily enjoy this fantasy series. But if J.K. Rowling has taught us any thing, it’s that kids can handle complex plots and complicated motivations — and by doing so, adults can join in the fun too. All my complains aside, I give Magyk a healthy three stars, and already have Flyte (Septimus Heap, Book 2) on hand — I’m optimistic that the series will improve. This is, after all Angie Sage’s first novel.
But then again, so was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Come on, it’s not exactly as if Rowling invented Boggarts, and nor was she particularly faithful to their traditional attributes. The last thing we want is for parts of our shared folkloric heritage to be rendered off limits because some popular author happened to have used them.