Magyk: A Young Adult Novel Through A Child's Eyes

Angie Sage. Septimus Heap Book One Magyk. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.

Angie Sage's first book in what promises to be a long saga is engaging for the most part and occasionally humorous, however it has two long stretches where absolutely nothing of interest to anyone happens. It is also placed in the wrong genre, which causes problems for readers interested in young adult fantasy. While this books claims to be "young adult," it is really more juvenile. It can almost be considered Harry Potter for a younger, less intelligent audience. All things considered, Magyk is a great book to recommend to ten to twelve year olds, however it should not be taught to high school students.

Sage's novel starts out with a mysterious man on an intriguing errand walking through a dark woods on his way to a castle. While away, a strange woman dressed in purple gives him a child and tells him to take care of it as if it is his own. When the man arrives home, it is to find that his own newborn child has died and his body was mysteriously kidnapped by the midwife. With all of the mysterious and dark activity, the opening of the novel successfully captures the reader's attention. Unfortunately, Sage is not able to maintain the interest and the next thirty to forty pages are exceedingly dull and filled with long descriptions of minor characters who are of absolutely no importance to the plot whatsoever. The book finally picks up about fifty pages in for ten pages and then slows back down to a miserable crawl for the next one hundred forty. Sage saves the reader from death-by-boredom with an exciting climax, but the book would be more effective and better in general if Sage had balanced out some of the climax's excitement throughout the rest of the book.

Any novel concerning wizards is automatically going to be compared to Harry Potter, regardless of how far the author strays from J.K. Rowling's portrayal of wizards. J.K. Rowling owns wizards, especially child wizards, and every author/reader/human being reading/writing/existing today knows this. Even though Magyk is different than Harry Potter, it still has many similar concepts (magical children, witches and wizards, magical creatures [the boggart makes an appearance in both novels], the idea of 'the chosen one', etc). These shared concepts clearly demonstrate where Sage found her inspiration.

Even though Sage borrowed concepts from Rowling, she did not borrow style. Magykis a very straightforward, abrupt text that lacks the fluidity and cohesion for which Rowling is famous. Although Sage's prose is extremely simplistic and to the point, she does insert some witty humor throughout the novel that a reader of any age can appreciate. Unfortunately, she mixes that timeless humor with some jokes that are too childish to be even considered in a juvenile novel, let alone one that is supposedly geared for "young adults."

Before I go any further criticizing the childish nature of Magyk, I should include that there is dark subject matter involved in the novel. The villain tortures, kidnaps and kills innocent people and there are some fairly gruesome descriptions of people and things that have been affected by "darke magyk." The evil portrayed in the book keeps it from being too sugary-sweet, however it is all presented in a childish way that prevents the reader from understanding the full magnitude of what has happened. For example, in one scene, the villain pushes two people off a boat that is described as being so large that one had to "squint to make out the canoes that were floating next to it in the water." These sailors survive the fall (even though they get disoriented and have headaches), find shelter on a chicken boat, and go off to another island where they live happily ever after as chicken farmers. In another scene, a boy has been sliced open and possessed by the villain so that nothing but the shell of his skin and a few pieces of soul remain, pronounced dead by the master wizard, yet brought miraculously back to life over the course of an hour by a potion that the witch just happened to have in her storeroom. It was like Sage was trying to attain the legitimacy of Rowling but couldn't quite muster the resolve to actually harm any creature in any way. Sage can find it in her heart to brutally maim her characters but cannot follow through on her actions. In this regard I think she took some inspiration from The Twilight Saga's Stephenie Meyer's characters who get to challenge the most evil creatures in existence and live "forever and ever" with nothing bad ever happening to anyone. The childish "everyone gets to live even though they should have died" mentality prevents Sage from achieving true legitimacy as an author and forever associates her with the likes of Stephanie Meyer, a fate worse than being avada kedavra'd by Voldemort.

Magyk is poorly labled as a "young adult" novel. Sage's simplistic style and lack of complex themes, along with her inability to carry out actions to their logical conclusions, markets her novels to a much younger audience than the term "young adult" would suggest. Magyk is more appropriate for preteens than adolescents; the subject matter is very PG and the prose is too simple for an adolescent to find engaging. While the plot of the novel is promising, Sage should have condensed the events to quicken the pace of the novel. Regardless, the climax is incredibly well done and is enough to save the novel from being condemned completely.

Because of Magyk's youthful, almost patronizing tone, this would not be a good novel to teach high school students. Even though it is marketed to young adults, the audience that would really appreciate this book would be ten to twelve year olds.

Recommendations for Teachers
While this book is not properly labeled when it is considered to be Young Adult and, therefore, would never conceivably be used in a high school class setting, there are some universal themes that a teacher could elaborate on to create meaning to the Young Adult reader.
1. The Search For Identity - The search for identity is a major theme in this book. Jenna, the long-lost Princess, undergoes a crisis of identity when it is revealed that she is the Princess who's identity had been hidden for the first portion of her life. Suddenly, she goes from being a normal, everyday girl to being someone of importance. This is good and bad. Yes, she is the Princess, however, the one currently in power, namely DomDaniel, wants her dead. Boy 412 of the Young Army also undergoes a identity crisis. SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the book, it is made known that Boy 412 is actually Septimus Heap (which is pretty obvious long before the actually revelation) and is an extremely magykal boy, and, therefore, becomes the ExtraOrdinary Wizard's apprentice.
2. The Meaning of Family - Tied directly to the search for identity is the meaning of family. With so many single parent homes, divorce, remarriage, etc. many children are not sure what to make of "family" anymore. The book does a great job of addressing what a "family" is. Jenna, the Princess, has the realization that the people she had considered her family suddenly weren't technically her biological family anymore. But were they still family? And how about Boy 412/Septimus Heap. What does he do with his new found family?
3. Diversity - While this theme might not be evident immediately, there is a distinct element of diversity to this book. Diversity is much more than just about race or gender. It also consists of social, religious, economic, and many other elements. In Magyk, we most clearly see the diversity seen in the differences between the magykal people and the non-magykal people. At different times throughout the book, there is mention of the clashes that these two different groups have had in the past. For much of the duration of the book, magyk is highly frowned upon.
4. Adversity - This is a wide-ranging theme, but it covers every child. Everyone endures adversity and troubles at some point in their lives. The question becomes how will one deal with adversity. Many of the characters in Magyk endure great adversity, ranging from the loss of a child to threat of death.

About Angie Sage
external image angie.jpgAngie Sage is the best-selling author of the Septimus Heap series. She was born in London on June 19, 1952, and grew up in Thames Valley, London and Kent. Her love for reading began as a child, as she would often hide away in the orchards around her house to read. Her publisher father would bring home books filled with blank pages for her to draw pictures and stories in. However, Sage did not begin writing books until some time after college; before that, she went to Art School in Leicester for Graphic Design and Illustration. After college, she began writing and illustrating children's books. Her first, critically-acclaimed novel was Septimus Heap: Magyk. She followed Magyk with it's sequels, Flyte (2006), Physik (2007), Queste (2008), Syren (2009), and Darke (2011). She has also written another children's series, Araminta Spook, which contains the books My Haunted House, The Sword in the Grotto, Frognapped, Vampire Brat, and Ghostsitters.

Angie Sage has two daughters, Laurie and Lois. She currently resides in Somerset in the west of England, where she continues to illustrate children's books and work on the seventh novel in the Septimus Heap series.

More information on Angie Sage can be found on her author's page.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Below is a fanmade trailer for the book, using illustrations and animation to make the pages come to life!

Here is an interview with Angie Sage, the author of Magyk.

This is an excerpt from the audiobook, a reading from the beginning of the book where Silas finds Jenna in the snow.

Additional Resources:

-Ethan Mingerink, Baige Bell, Clarice Thorpe, and Jessica Sorgs (The Light, Graceling).