Magyk: A Review

July 26, 2010

It’s summer time.  My synapses are firing in heat-induced slow motion.  Edit that chapter or compose a coherent sentence, I think not.  But it is a perfect day to flop on the couch with a cool drink in one hand and a good book in the other.  Ah, yes, time for summer reading.

My kids have an ongoing competition to see who can read the most.  My son currently holds the lead at nine novels, but my daughter isn’t far behind.  I’m the laggard in the group at a mere four since mid-June.  And our favorite summer reading fare?  The MG/YA novel.

I’ve just finished Angie Sage’s Magyk, the first book in her Septimus Heap series.  My kids adore this series and have read each book numerous times as the dog-eared pages attest.  They own all five books published so far.  I expect that there will be seven in total.  Despite their enthusiastic recommendations (They loved the humor!), I was hesitant.

Septimus Heap was born the seventh son of a seventh son, destined to be a wizard with great magical powers.  But the newborn boy is declared dead and spirited away shortly after birth.  In his place, the Heaps are given a foundling baby girl to raise her as their own.  When the girl’s life is threatened by assassins, the Heaps must protect her and in the process discover what really happened to their infant son.

Author Angie Sage tells the tale via an omniscient narrator.  With no single point of view, this makes it difficult to latch on to the plight of the characters or to identity the main protagonist.  I found the start slow and the constant head-hopping distracting.  (At one point, we were even inside the head of Maxie, the Heap’s family dog.  My kids found this hilarious.)  I was about to give up, but my crew persuaded me to stick with it. 

For me, the story picked up with the arrival of the Hunter.  Now the stakes were clear: I had a villain to oppose and a protagonist to cheer for.  From this point on, the plot unrolled at a speedy clip right up until the satisfying ending.  Along the way, I enjoyed the humor and Sage’s engaging cast of characters.

Collectively, we give Magyk five out of six thumbs up.  (Maxie the wolfhound gives it seven gobs of dog drool.  If you haven’t already guessed, seven is an important number in this series.)

Summer Reading

July 9, 2009

One of the pleasures of vacation is curling up with a good read.  This summer’s reading fare?  The MG/YA novel.  Both of my teens are into fantasy, so all three of us enjoyed reading and passing around the books we had chosen.

I chose Susan Cooper’s Over Sea Under Stone, the first novel in her Dark is Rising series.  This one is classic fantasy in the vein of C.S. Lewis.  Although slow to start, the plot picked up with the discovery of an old map.  From then on, it was a real page-turner as the Drew children raced one step ahead of their enemies in a classic Arthurian-inspired quest.

For my second selection, I traded with my son for Sea of Monsters, Book Two of Rick Riordan’s Olympian series. My daughter gave me a hard time for starting with the second book, but I argued that I should be able to pick up any series on book two and still be able to follow the plot.  Riordan didn’t disappoint. His book was written in a modern style – first person narrative, lots of voice, and humor (which my son loved). Of course, there was the requisite quest and a cadre of kid heroes, but with a clever twist on classical mythology.  This was especially interesting to me as I’m currently working on my own twisted version of the Cyclops myth.

Not only was this fun reading, but also educational from a writer’s standpoint. The authors wrote in two very different styles.  I noted how both told satisfying stories while planting the seeds of an overall arc for their respective series.  And I gathered ideas as I prepared to revise my own middle-grade fantasy, gaining insight into what works in my novel and what still needs attention.

I’m ready to delve into another book, but my daughter hasn’t finished with her selection yet.

What are you reading this summer?  How does it inform your writing?