Katherine Tegen Books, 2007
When Silas Heap unSeals a forgotten room in the Palace, he releases the ghost of a Queen who lived five hundred years earlier. Queen Etheldredda is as awful in death as she was in life, and she’s still up to no good. Her diabolical plan to give herself everlasting life requires Jenna’s compliance, Septimus’s disappearance, and the talents of her son, Marcellus Pye, a famous Alchemist and Physician. And if Queen Etheldredda’s plot involves Jenna and Septimus, then it will surely involve Nicko, Alther Mella, Marcia Overstrand, Beetle, Stanley, Sarah, Silas, Spit Fyre, Aunt Zelda, and all of the other wacky characters.
This series is often compared to Harry Potter, but I think in many ways it’s much different. The only parallels that I see are that it involves a boy, who at one point is an orphan, and magic. Definitely written for a younger audience, the Septimus books have a tendency to be a little silly sometimes and the endings easily resolved. However, in contrast, Sage deftly creates an interesting world with often odd and humorous characters who have the ability to surprise the reader. The plot structures of each story vary, and, to any fantasy reader’s great joy, she doesn’t use the same antagonist throughout every single book. Some of the characters switch sides, and other, new bad guys emerge as the series progresses. Also, unlike many series writers, Sage will start a chain of events that last throughout several books, continuing to hook readers from book to book. She does not wrap everything up neatly, but is still able to finish a book in a way that makes the story seem complete. Then, the reader has the anticipation of discovering how some of the issues that arise in earlier books will unravel in later additions.
Within this book specifically is a prime example of a complicated plot structure and set of characters that break the far too often tread mold of fantasy novels. The main bad guy is a Queen named Etheldredda, who is now a ghost attempting to live forever. However, another ‘bad guy’ of this book is her son, Marcellus Pye who kidnaps Septimus from 500 years in the past. However, in order to create three-dimensional characters, Marcellus is shown throughout the book to be kind and fiercely intelligent, winning Septimus’s admiration and trust even though he doesn’t want to be back in time. Far too often, the antagonists are simply evil and have nothing more to them. It certainly makes the reading more interesting when there are levels of good and evil, and not everyone has to be simply one or the other. Even Simon, who was the bad guy in the previous book, seems to be coming around because of Lucy’s influence. I recommend this to all readers 9+, skewing more toward boys.
For the Classroom
Since this text operates in a parallel world with separate cultures, societal issues, natural laws and histories than our own, there’s not much to use as a classroom companion.