Star summary: 

3-- for good plot, ok characters & writing. No moral confusion, though no real moral lessons, either.

Septimus is trying to take his place as the youngest son of the Heap family, and the Apprentice to the intimidating Extra-Ordinary Wizard. Jenna is learning what it means to be the Princess. The Heap family has greatly changed; Silas & Sarah now live in the Castle along with Jenna, and are trying very hard to learn to manage the huge empty building, left bare and sad after 10 years occupation by the Custodian Army. Nicko is a Apprenticed to a boat-builder and lives by the Harbor. Sam, Jo-jo, Edd & Erik have decided to stay on in the Forest at "Camp Heap." Septimus lives in the Wizard Tower under Marcia's supervision. Marcia is still wearing her purple python pointy shoes. That leaves Simon... unfortunately he returns just as the book begins, bent on getting back at the twerpy younger brother who was offered the Apprenticeship he'd >long desired. He kidnaps Jenna, despite having grown up with her as his beloved little sister; to him she is now the one responsible for ruining his life and the cozy family life he once had. When none of the grown-ups believe that he would do such a thing, Septimus & Nicko set off to find her (To her credit, Marcia's judgment was impaired by the Shadow dogging her every step.). Their journey takes them all over the Forest (meeting the Wendron Witches as well as their grandfather-turned-tree), the Port and the Marshes, and escaping wolverines, carnivorous trees, land Wurms, Darke Magyk and a jealous older brother. Septimus manages to hatch a dragon (Spit Fyre) amidst all the action, and Jenna's DragonBoat is gravely injured. It seems DomDaniel is once again behind the trouble, the old sinner who keeps coming back from the dead. When Jenna & Septimus finally outsmart him, Marcia is delivered from her Shadow, and Septimus comes in possession of the ancient Flyte charm, which enables him to do something Wizards had long forgotten how to do: fly. Despite all this, Septimus' satisfaction at the story's conclusion comes from one fact: Simon finally has acknowledged him as a brother, even if only in hate.

I went into Book 2 with high hopes. I truly enjoyed Magyk, which garnered a "3" on my site, and as series often get better as the writer hits her stride, I hoped to see this one surpass its predecessor. I was both disappointed and encouraged. This book again has an engaging plot with more character development (as was lacking in the first book), however it did no better in terms of narrative improvement or insight (still no wise quotable words, nor life lessons to be learned) and I found myself to be quite disappointed where the author took several characters, that is to say, nowhere. The four middle Heap brothers are nearly out of the picture, undistinguishable from each other and Forest-wild. Merrin, who as DomDaniel's ex-apprentice had such potential, is a sullen, angry boy whom Aunt Zelda doesn't know how to befriend at all. The adults in the story could all be replaced with ostriches-- in denial, and completely unhelpful to their children.

Cautions? oodles of scary monsters whom some kids will find deliciously slimy, and others will find disturbingly chilling; the practices of the Young Army (the Do-or-Dies); the idea that a brother could be so malicious towards his own siblings in a quest for revenge.

Themes: The tendency of everything to "work out" for those who act with integrity; while the unsavory characters are left unhappy at the end, those who have acted kindly and honorably find themselves in places of honor. The futility of revenge, as siding with evil always backfires in some way. Those who are evil cannot be trusted-- they have no friendship to offer, only a desire to control.

Bottom line? Everything happens in a way that will work out for the good of those who are honorable, while those who seek their own power find themselves consumed by others (ex. Merrin by Simon, Simon by DomDaniel)

Talking points:
- Why was it so important to Septimus that Simon finally acknowledged him?
- Who is your favorite character and why?
- Why do you think that Sarah & Silas Heap reacted the way they did to Simon's misdeeds?
- What motivated Simon to act the way he did? How could he go from loving older brother to calculating potential murderer? (He saw Jenna as a "cuckoo," an orphan who had pushed all her adopted siblings from her nest.)
- Do you feel sorry for Merrin despite all his nastiness? Is it possible to truly hate a character whom you also pity?
- Discuss the Second Chance program-- do you think it will help people like Catchpole?
- How is this story a "coming-of-age" story of Septimus Heap? What about Jenna, with all the talk about "The Time Being Right"?

Appropriate audience: Fourth- ninth grade (ages 9-14). Older teens and adults will probably find the plot and setting engaging and intriguing, but will unfortunately find no gems to mine and polish later. Children ages 7 and up would likely enjoy this as a read-aloud (provided the monsters do not creep them out too much).

Stars: 3
Characters & Setting-the setting is intriguing, but the characters lack depth. Simon is believable, though. 1/2 a star.
Plot-- Rollicking good fun, though I do wish Spit Fyre's story arc had been a bit more set up (ex. describe what needs to happen to hatch a dragon egg before it happens, so it isn't so "out of the blue." I found myself imagining how JK Rowling would have had Septimus idly memorizing the steps to dragon-hatching in a lesson early on, or even have Catchpole using an old flier on the topic to paper a broom cupboard and reading portions aloud, completely unobtrusively...). Full star.
Writing-- not bad at all. I found the capitalized misspellings of words denoting magical spells (Magyc, Flyte, etc.) at first annoying, later endearing. Amusing, but not quotable or particularly memorable. Half a star.
Character-building/Eternal perspective -- the good guys get good stuff; the bad guys get bad stuff. Beyond that, there isn't much depth. The parents are downright disappointing. There's no narrator or wise character giving us commentary to grow on. Certainly not morally confusing, though. 1/2 a star.
Wow factor --creative, engaging world. The illustrations are lackluster (Jenna looks like a masculine tramp instead of a beautiful little girl), but other than that the physical book is attractive. Half a star.

There's no real reason to keep a child from reading this series if they want to... but there are better series out there.

Star rating: 

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