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Fyre (2013), the seventh and last book in Angie Sage's entertaining Septimus Heap series, enriched and disappointed me. The main story begins a short time after the events of the sixth book, Darke, during which Septimus and company managed to stop Merrin Meredith's Two-Faced Ring-guided Darke Domaine. Now Marcellus Pye, reinstated Castle Alchemist, is secretly restarting the great Fyre beneath the Castle for the first time since the Great Alchemie Disaster 500 years ago. ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand is keeping the dangerous Two-Faced Ring in a magically Sealed Cell as she waits for Marcellus to become ready to DeNature the artifact. The two Darke Warrior Wizards trapped in the Ring are threatening to escape to extinguish Princess Jenna's line. Marcia's Apprentice Septimus Heap is still equivocating between Alchemie and Magyk. Septimus' oldest brother Simon (now fully redeemed after his year in the Darke) and Lucy Gringe are getting married in a well-attended ceremony. Sarah Heap is feeling happy because for the first time all eight of her children are together, but also stressed because the gifts for Jenna's impending Coronation are piling up. Jenna's biological father Milo is working on a secret project, while her biological mother’s ghost is still waiting for the right time to Appear. Jenna is missing the easy relationship she had with the old Beetle, and, worse, is fearing that the Dragon Boat is dying. Aunt Zelda, the Keeper, is forgetting things, but luckily her Apprentice Wolf Boy is becoming ever more confident and capable. And the Wendron witches are still hoping to bag a trophy princess.
For the first part of the novel Sage lovingly tours the Castle (and its Palace and Wizard Tower) with her quirky characters, as if preparing herself and her readers to say good-bye to it all. Then, as in most of the books in the series, mind-boggling adult blunders lead to complications for her child heroes (now 14) to deal with. As in other books in the series, Sage introduces appealing new characters, in this case the Drummins, Alchemical salamander-dwarfs with shiny dark eyes, suckered digits, a complex system of burrows, a lyrical sign language, an affinity for Fyre, and the ability to hibernate for centuries when cold. The Fyre, which feeds on water and calms under coal, is a sublime creation: living, beautiful, powerful.
In a Sage-ian page-turning and humorous way, the story attempts to tie things up, but in this novel Sage also writes more sublime descriptions than in her other books, making it often quite wonderful and pleasurable to read. When Marcellus opens the sluice gate to pour water into the reservoir of the Fyre, when Marcia opens the Sealed Cell to show Septimus the Two-Faced Ring, when Jenna massages the heart of the Dragon Boat, when Septimus and Beetle gaze at the Wizard Tower at night, when Jenna holds out her hand for the ghost of her mother to touch, when Septimus senses the "quiet and purposeful process" of the living Fyre and sees its huge red eye, when the ten-foot tall Warrior Wizards in their iridescent green carapaces and Darke cloaks direct their red eye beams onto the surface of the Fyre, when Aunt Zelda goes into the forest with her storm petrol brother and leans against her large tree brother: all such moments create a vivid, new magical world. And Sage achieves this even when describing non-fantastic things: "One of those bright forest mornings, when the sunlight filtered down through the leaves, and danced across the forest floor like reflections on water."
Sage does occasionally yank the reader out of her fantasy world with jarringly inappropriate writing, as when she compares two hapless Heap uncles to slow motion pinballs, or when she has Marcia quote a person she really admires, Sherlock Holmes. But such moments are outnumbered by delightful and apt touches like this: "In the very center [of burning houses and shops] stood the Alchemie Chimney with a massive plume of black smoke belching from it, like a Witch Mother on a midnight moot conducting her acolytes as they danced around her." Such moments have ever been my favorite parts of the Septimus Heap series (elevating it above the Harry Potter books), and the times I have been disappointed by Sage's work have usually been when she neglects her numinous imagination for too much page-turning action.
It struck me in reading this last book that many rules regulate life in Sage's fantasy world: Queen Rules, Ghost Rules (e.g., an ExtraOrdinary Wizard Post-Living Handbook), Wizard Tower Code of Conduct, Wizard Induction Oath, Spell rules, and so on. And yet despite all the rules, in the Septimus Heap series (unlike Le Guin's Earthsea cycle or Butcher's Harry Dresden books) there is never any discussion about the nature of magic--what it is, where it comes from, how much derives from study and how much from innate gift, what happens to the world when it is used, etc.
The main thing that disappointed me in Fyre is Sage's under use or misuse of potentially interesting characters like the Darke Wizards, Merrin Meredith, Arthel Mella, Jim Knee, Queen Cerys, and ESPECIALLY poor Syra Syara and over use of uninteresting characters like the all-too Ordinary Apprentice Rose, whose interactions with Septimus ("I'll pick you up later?" "Yes.") and reactions to wonderful things like the Dragon Boat ("Wow. . . . That is just so . . . wow.") are banal.
Gerard Doyle, who capably reads books two through seven, finally nearly made me forget Allan Corduner (the superb reader of the first book); I've always liked his gruff Beetle, and really enjoyed his high-pitched Drummin voices.
Readers who like young adult magical fantasy stories, should like Sage's series and this concluding novel, which is full of original and vivid fantasy writing, humorous and moving moments, and plenty of restoration and renewal.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Several of my students have read this series, and I have many fantasy fans always looking for AR titles they will enjoy. I try to read as many books on our AR lists as I can and mainly only read the first 1 or 2 titles of a series. I couldn't do that with the characters in this series. Really enjoyable- and it got better as I went on in terms of writing and character development. I know I'll want to follow the Pathfinder series also.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
as always, what a great story. I'm sad to see it end.😣I will definitely be reading Angies spin off series.
the entire series was amazing and the world created was so intricate I would find myself imagining alternate stories that could take place within it.