Thursday, March 27, 2008

So Much for the Big Surprise ...

(Image from Harper Collins)

Ever since the Harry Potter books were published, a whole crop of new wizards and heroes have magically appeared in Young Adult literature. These new stars have much in common - they are young, often orphans, and unaware of their powers. Through a series of circumstances (always dramatic, and usually involving running for their lives), they come to realize they are wizards/Half-Gods/other powerful magical/mythological beings. The children then undergo various forms of training, learning enough to face vile enemies in fierce battles of good v. evil. I'm trying to decide if this trend is classic (a la The Sword and the Stone) or just cliche. Not that I'm tired of reading about ordinary kids turned extraordinary, it's just that plots which are essentially the same as all the other plots in the genre tend to become a bit predictable. To stand out in a genre filled to the brim with wizards, sorcerers, princesses, and magicians, you have to find something original to say. Too often, post-HP authors are merely copying the work of the incomparable J.K. Rowling.

Okay, I know you think I am just ranting (and I sort of am), but these thoughts really do have something to do with the book I'm reviewing, Magyk by Angie Sage. Of course, explaining how my rant relates will lead to a spoiler (kind of), so I'll leave it 'til the end of the review. Don't worry - I'll warn you with bold type and lots of exclamation points so you won't inadvertently read something that will ruin the story for you.

Magyk tells the story of the Heaps, a family of 8 who live in The Ramblings, a kind of apartment complex for commoners. Although humble, the Heaps possess bright green eyes - telltale signs of a wizarding family. When the story opens, Sarah Heap has given birth to yet another boy. Baby Septimus is the seventh son of a seventh son, a position which destines him to become a powerful wizard. With the infant safely delivered, his father, Silas, treks into the forest to collect herbs for the baby. As he hustles home in the growing darkness, Silas hears something whimpering in the bushes. When he bends down, he's startled to find a baby laying on the cold, snowy ground. Kind-hearted Silas scoops up the infant and heads toward home. Before he can make it to his front door, a tall figure in purple warns him, "Tell no one you found her. She was born to you. Understand?" (5) A confused Silas rushes on, only to be met at his own door by the midwife, who is running out with Septimus' still form. "Dead!" she cries (6).

Although Sarah and Silas grieve for Septimus, they soon settle into life with their 6 boys and baby daughter. They tell no one about finding the infant in the snow. Six months later, Sarah receives troubling news from the castle - the Queen, who has not been seen publicly since her baby was born, has been shot by an assassin. Rumor has it that the infant princess was spirited away before the killer could get to her. Sarah realizes instantly what has happened. Her 6-month-old daughter is, in fact, the princess.

Ten years later, a friendly ghost warns the Heaps that trouble is on the horizon - the castle's new ruler has commanded an assassin to eliminate the princess. The Heaps flee to their Aunt Zelda's cottage on the isolated marshes, dragging an ExtraOrdinary Wizard, a slobbering wolfhound and a terrified boy soldier with them. As the group bands together, they discover a great many things, all of which will help them take on the evil Necromancer determined to finish off the princess for good.

Although it was predictable, the book kept me turning pages. I would have liked more character development, but basically the cast was sympathetic. Several of the characters - Marcia Overstrand, Aunt Zelda and Boy 412, for instance - were more interesting than others. The characters I most enjoyed were magical beings, like Princess Jenna's pet rock, Zelda's helpful Boggart, and the put-upon messenger rat. The magykal world, with its charms, spells and various enchantments, intrigued me. Probably my favorite passages in the book are those in which Marcia terrorizes doors, appliances and mirrors, all of which have feelings about their punishment. Another thing I enjoyed about this book is the Extras at the end. You can get a taste of these delights at Angie Sage's fun website.

Okay, onto the not-so-good stuff. Occasionally, Sage's writing drove me crazy. She shifted viewpoints at random, sometimes in the middle of paragraphs. It wasn't so much confusing as just plain annoying. She also relied heavily on adverbs, another thing which drives me nuts. I counted 8 on one page, and they're small pages. The writing was also very choppy in places. This is small potatoes, however, and I could have lived with it if it wasn't for this ...

WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD (although they're so obvious, I don't know if I'd really call them spoilers; nonetheless, you've been warned) !!! My biggest beef with this book is Angie Sage's assumption that her readers are not all that smart. I was irritated by sentences like these, which seemed to imply that readers need to have things spelled out to them:

"Then he screamed again, this time in pain. He had broken his fifth metacarpal. His little finger" (133). I don't know about you, but I understood that his fifth metacarpal was his little finger.

"There was an unhappy silence. No one liked what Alther had said" (439). Duh. That's why the silence is unhappy.

Am I being nitpicky? Probably, but I hate it when the author insults my intelligence. As if these examples weren't enough, Angie Sage saves her big reveal for the end. Boy 412 is Septimus Heap. What, you say? Septimus didn't die? No, he didn't, but we know that from the moment we glance at Magyk's cover, which proudly proclaims it to be Septimus Heap, Book One. So, when a 10-year-old boy of unknown origin appears in the story, it's pretty obvious who he is. But, the author waits until the very ending of the book to make the big reveal. To me, that was obnoxious, since I had known his true identity from the beginning. This one thing killed the book for me. Angie Sage made her surprise ending so obvious that it wasn't a surprise at all.

SPOILER OVER!!!!

So, if it hadn't been for that one thing, I really would have enjoyed reading Magyk. Since the big revelation is out of the way, I'm hoping the next volumes in this series continue the exciting story of the Heap Family, without lazing around with surprise endings that aren't surprises at all.
Grade: C

7 comments:

  1. I saw this on the library shelf the other day and got curious, thinking "looks like another Harry Potter rip off". Glad to read your review- I'm still of mixed opinion if I want to read it or not (and funny, i don't mind spoilers)

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  2. Hm. Should I admit that I didn't know that the fifth metacarple was the little finger? I agree, though, that it's a bit uppity to assume I didn't know that. Perhaps she could have just worked it in later? "The next day, his little finger was still bothering him." See: education and I get to still feel smart. :) The unhappy silence bit, though. Seriously. Didn't she ever learn about duh statements in her writing classes?

    I'd say "great review," but that would be a duh statement, as well. I try to avoid them.

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  3. Agree mostly with what you had to say. I did like the story as a whole though. I probably would have gone with a b or b-

    I didn't like the second one (Flyte) as much as Magyk. It was pretty predictable, though I thought it was fun in a mind candy sort of way. My husband and I both liked the third one, Physik the best. Do you think you'll read the rest?

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  4. I tend to shy away from these sort of books since I was such a huge Harry Potter fan and I just can't help to compare!

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  5. At some point, we all have to be nitpicky...I'm guilty of it all the time. :-)

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  6. Oh, I'm definitely going to read the rest of the books. I want to see where the story leads. There was just that ONE thing that bugged me through the entire book. I did feel Magyk was a bit of an HP rip-off, but not enough that I didn't enjoy the story.

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  7. Yeah, the things that bugged you - that is just plain 'ol bad writing.

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