A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, among current fantasy novels, this is among the least dark or violent, and almost uniquely in this genre, fighting and killing are not portrayed as the answer to anything and are assiduously avoided, villains are seen as redeemable, and heroes are both stronger and more compassionate than their enemies. This series' gentleness makes it especially recommended for those not quite ready for the big, dark fantasies.
What's the story?
Just after the apparent death of the sprawling, wizardly Heap family's newborn seventh son, they are given a baby girl, Jenna, to care for. Ten years later they are forced to flee their home in the Castle when it turns out the girl is the daughter of the murdered queen, and the Supreme Custodian, who has taken over the city, sends an assassin to complete his destruction of the royal family. Pursued by a professional Hunter, and accompanied by the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, a ghost, and a young soldier known only as Boy 412, they head into the Marram Marshes to find refuge with their Aunt Zelda, the White Witch. But the Necromancer, DomDaniel, who is in league with the Supreme Custodian, is determined to see them all destroyed.
Is it any good?
This author may have slept through the classes in Story Construction and Character Development, but she was the star pupil in Blithe Spirit. With a light touch and gentle humor, she carries readers through this overlong first novel, with some explosions of imagination along the way. A wealth of fascinating magical creatures and an intriguing new design for magic make this a delightful, at times exciting, read.
Septimus, now apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, seems to be the only one alarmed with his brother Simon, doing the bidding of Necromancer DomDaniel, rides off with Princess Jenna. He knows she's been kidnapped and goes after her. This installment is just as fun as the first with the same light touch and unique approach to magic. It's nice to see Septimus fleshing out as a character, learning magic, and facing his fears.
Septimus is kidnapped through a magic glass and taken back 500 years to be the apprentice of alchemist Marcellus Pye. Meanwhile Pye's mother, Queen Etheldredda, haunts the present and attempts to reclaim the crown from Jenna. There are plenty of what-ifs with the time travel theme, but the story bogs down in its length and some of the heart is missing in this installment. Queen Ehteldredda is a fun villain, however.
Thanks to a cruel ghost, Septimus is set up for a quest that no other apprentice has returned from -- but not if he escapes the Questing Guards first. He, Jenn, and his friend Beetle would rather rescue Nikko and Snorri, stranded in the distant past in book 3. It takes almost 300 pages for the trio to hit the road and this book is poorer for it. The focus should have been on their journey, not a slew of minor characters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the author's aversion to violence. How does the author make the story so exciting without battles and fighting?
How is the approach to fantasy and the good/evil struggle different from other books?
This is yet another fantasy book being made into a movie. If you read the book first, what do you think would make it a good movie? Who do you envision playing Jenna? Boy 412?
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