The ‘Septimus Heap’ series of books are rather like ‘Harry Potter’ in the Discworld universe, but with a more Narnia-esque flavour suited to a pre-teen readership. In other words, the titular character is a young magic user in a fantasy setting and through the series of seven novels, the young Septimus Heap not only has to survive school, he also has to deal with wicked wizards and fire-breathing dragons.
If all of this makes ‘Septimus Heap’ sound a little derivative, that would be a bit unfair, given the colour and depth of the world that Angie Sage has created. While it’s probably true that she’s drawn on some of the same myths and tropes that Lewis, Pratchett and Rowling used her imaginary world is also unique in many ways. There’s a certain benign Englishness to Sage’s writing evocative of the likes of Enid Blyton, but updated and a little more worldly-wise, even cynical. There’s a streak of class consciousness running through the ‘Septimus Heap’ novels as well and this is more ‘Grange Hill’ than ‘Mallory Towers’.
It’d be easy enough to dismiss ‘The Magykal Papers’ as a simple spin-off, perhaps even an unnecessary adjunct to a popular, though apparently complete, series of children’s books. But ‘The Magykal Papers’ is actually a rather lovely piece of meta-fiction, a complete work in its own right and easily enjoyed simply as another look into Sage’s fantasy world. That Englishness holds firm here, with some charming descriptions of eateries that’ll be quite familiar to anyone who’s looked for a bite to eat in one of the less salubrious parts of Bristol. The facsimiles of school reports will also ring a few bells for anyone working their way through the English comprehensive school system.
‘The Magykal Papers’ offers an engaging mix of biographies and locality descriptions that are sure to appeal to fans of the series, whatever their ages. While the target audience is presumably around 10-12 years of age, there’s depth enough for older readers, while the various maps and beautiful paintings by Mark Zug keep the book readily accessible to younger readers. Family trees, secret governmental memos and even pages from spellbooks provide those extra touches that really make ‘The Magykal Papers’ feel well worth the cover price. For fans of the series, surely a must-have purchase.
The Magykal Papers: A Companion To The World Of Septimus Heap by Angie Sage
(pub: Bloomsbury, 2009. 167 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £12.99. ISBN: 978-1-4088-0056-0)
check out website: www.bloomsbury.com