Star summary: 

3- for ok writing, good moral compass, some engaging characters and a fun plot.

(SO frustrated... after working for 2 days on a review of this book, my computer died and I lost the entire thing right as I was hitting "submit." ARG! I apologize for the delay in last week's review. I've still got hopes to post a new one tomorrow, never fear! =D)

On a cold wintry day in the Castle, the Ordinary Wizard Silas Heap comes upon a newborn girl, lying (well wrapped but alone) in the snow. Quickly he takes the child under his robes and begins to hurry home to his wife Sarah and their seven sons-- the youngest of whom, Septimus, was born today. As he hurries to their warm tiny home in The Ramblings (a topsy-turvy extension complex of halls and rooms within the Castle walls), he is stopped by Marcia Overstrand, who today has become the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. "Tell no one you found her. She was born to you!" is her cryptic command, and she brushes by, leaving Silas dumbfounded. As he reaches home, he finds his wife sobbing and his six little boys too terrified to cry; Septimus has died! The tiny baby girl is immediately accepted into the family, in some ways filling the hole baby Septimus' death left in their hearts. They name her Jenna, after Sarah's mother.

Exactly ten years later the Heap family again faces life-changes and upheaval. In the intervening decade the Castle has come under the tyranny of the Supreme Custodian, as the Queen and her newborn child have disappeared; rumored murdered. The Custodian Army rules the land; the orphan and un-apprenticed are pressed into the cold & heartless Young Army; hunger is common; Magyk (pronounced "magic") has been forbidden and Wizards mistrusted. The Heaps all have curly blond hair and eyes green with Magyk, all except for Jenna. Marcia Overstrand interrupts her party and her life, telling her that she is the Queenling, rescued from the Castle after the murder of her mother the Queen. Now an Assassin is on the way to finish what was begun 10 years ago. Jenna, and the entire Heap family, must go. Now. Marcia takes Jenna with her into the Wizard stronghold, the Tower while the rest of the family flees into the Merram Marshes through the Forest. Eventually Jenna & Marcia follow suit, with Boy 412 in tow-- a Young Army sentry whom Marcia rescued from freezing to death.

A fast-paced tale of pursuit and escape follows, involving a terrifying Hunter, the Necromancer DomDaniel, Stanley the Messenger Rat, a Boggart, a dragon boat, Aunt Zelda (a Keeper-- "keeper of what?" you ask); a mysterious apprentice to DomDaniel called Septimus Heap, and an extremely zealous Shield Bug. Questions are answered and various aspects collide. Will Jenna be able to deliver her people by taking her rightful place as Queen? Who is Septimus Heap? What will happen to Boy 412?

Cautions? oodles of scary monsters whom some kids will find deliciously slimy, and others will find disturbingly chilling; a conscience-less band of enemies. I personally wasn't a fan of either. The "resolution" of conflict with the Hunter is very unsatisfying, in my mind. He goes from being a formidable, cunning enemy to a bumbling buffoon in one page. The ridiculous nature of his fate trivialized all the danger he had caused before... the punishment did not fit the crime, so I felt a lack of justice. It didn't resolve tension, just left me feeling "in the lurch." I also wish there was a map included!!!

Themes: The unpredictability of adventures; like the Heap family, we never know what may befall us or those we love. 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.

Bottom line? Everything happens in a way that will work out for the good of those who are honorable.

Talking points:
- Compare Madam Marcia with Aunt Zelda. Why do you think they are often at odds with each other?
- Perhaps the reason stories with battles in them appeal to us is that we know instinctively that our lives are full of spiritual battles. What battles or trials have you had/are you having?
- Who is your favorite character and why?
- Compare the reaction of Simon Heap (jealousy, envy, discontentment, pride) with that of Jenna Heap.
- Compare the Magykal stories of Septimus Heap & Harry Potter.
- Boy 412 struggled with loyalty to the Army, despite its cruel treatment of him for all of his life. Why do you think this is? What convinced him that the people now "holding him captive" had actually rescued him? (Jenna's kindness to him) Why do you think he cares so much about the little green rock Jenna gave him?

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. The middle Heap boys especially are unsatisfactorily handled-- they seem to be no more than fillers, there to make sure we can get to the seventh son, Septimus. Jenna, Nicko, Marcia, Boy 412 and Aunt Zelda are well-rounded, and the Heap parents have potential. The enemies are at the same time cruel and laughable, which is not a very good combo in my mind. 1/2 a star.
Plot-- Rollicking good fun, if a bit predictable (see my note on the "resolution" of the Hunter story arc) 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. Many of the terms bring to mind (intentionally?) Tolkien & Rowling's works (the Heaps live at a Red Door in There and Back Again- very Hobbitesque; O.W.L.s -ordinary wizarding levels- are tests in HP). 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. 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.

Star rating: 

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