In this fifth book in the Magykal series, Septimus ends up on a captivatingly beautiful island, one of seven set in a sparkling sea. He's stranded there with his badly injured dragon, Spit Fyre, along with Jenna and Beetle. There are some strange things about the island, including a Magykal girl named Syrah, a cat-shaped lighthouse that has lost its Light, and an eerie presence that sings to Septimus - can he escape the persistent call? Trouble is also brewing for Lucy and Wolf Boy, who have become entangled with some nefarious sailors at sea, and for Milo Banda, Jenna's father, who is harboring a mysterious treasure chest in his ship's hold. Charismatic storyteller Angie Sage continues Septimus Heap's Magykal journey with more laugh-out-loud adventures, more enchanting charms and spells, and an ever-deepening understanding of the interior life of a young hero.
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Syren (2009), the fifth book in Angie Sage's entertaining and magical Septimus Heap series, begins about two days after the end of the fourth one, Queste. While Beetle, Jenna, Nicko, Snorri, and Ullr are in the far Trading Post being entertained on the Cerys, the splendid ship belonging to Jenna's biological father Milo Banda, Septimus is getting ready to fly there on his dragon Spit Fyre to pick them up. Newly promoted to Senior Apprentice of the ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand, the boy would like to dramatically finish his Queste by flying his long-lost older brother Nicko home to their parents at the Castle. As usual in Sage's books, things don't go quite according to plan. As Spit Fyre and Septimus are flying over a set of seven beautiful islands en route to the Trading Post to pick up his friends, the boy falls into a half-dreaming state and hears, perhaps, someone call his name. And mightn't some people prefer a leisurely ship voyage to an uncomfortable dragon flight? And just what's inside the old chest that Milo has secretly bought and sealed in the hold of the Cerys? Milo proudly tells Jenna that the contents of the chest will keep her safe in the Palace forever. Is Milo yet another of Sage's well-meaning but ignorant, feckless, obtuse, and otherwise flawed adults who cause so much trouble to her kid characters?
Meanwhile, other characters are engaged in sub-plots of their own. Wolf Boy is on an initiation mission to the Port Witches' Coven, which, if he survives, should make him Aunt Zelda's Apprentice Keeper (the first boy to ever be one). What will happen when Wolf Boy asks the Witches to let him feed the Darke, tentacled Grim? Simon Heap is missing Lucy Gringe, who has vanished in the port; has she dumped him for another boy? Merrin Meredith, AKA Daniel Hunter, AKA Septimus Heap, is still lurking about the Palace, gorging on licorice snakes and banana bears, growing ever more greasy haired, pimply, and obnoxious, and performing none too reliably at his new job in the Manuscriptorium. Will he learn a lesson about the dangers of shaking down little boys and opening their fancy scent bottles? Aboard the large, black fishing boat the Marauder, the skipper Theodophilus Fortitude Fry (ex-ship wrecker, ex-pirate) and his two thuggish hirelings the Twin Crows (one fat, one thin, both identical) are up to something shady. Is the rumor going round that Fry was plain Joe Grub until he came into some money by selling himself to become a ghost's BondsMan true? Speaking of ghosts, Tertius Fume, "no friend of the Castle," is suspiciously absent; can he be up to some new nefarious scheme?
Sage's unpredictable plot will have all those characters becoming involved with one another in one way or another, along with Syrah Syara, a slim, 500-year old former Senior Apprentice; Jim Knee, a jinnii with an outre hat; Barney Pot, a spunky little terrier of a boy; Jakey Fry, the lonely son of the unpleasant skipper; Miarr, a cat-man lighthouse keeper; and Syren, an ancient Possession Wraith. In this book, even the scream-prone Lucy Gringe becomes an interesting and capable character: "a smarty-pants boy and a tantrum-prone cat-man were not going to stop her from getting even with two murderous thugs and their skipper."
This novel may have fewer rich descriptions and more exciting action than Physik and Queste. And Sage is still apt to suddenly do something inconsistent or unconvincing with a character, as when she has Wolf Boy, who grew up wild with wolverines in the forest and who loves living in the Marram Marshes with all their creatures, wax squeamish about having to grab a live toad door knocker on the witches' door. And she needlessly attempts to evoke suspense by making Miarr's submarine have to launch in 60 seconds as Wolf Boy and Lucy equivocate over whether or not to get in it. And the climax suffers a bit from Deus Ex Machina. And Sage still, I think, overuses fairy tale superlatives like "the longest corridor Barney had ever seen."
All that said, there is plenty of fine and fun writing here. Cool descriptions like "She heard the loud swoosh of a dragon's wing, a noise not unlike the flapping of a hundred striped tents full of ghosts being blown away in a ferocious gale." Nifty Young Army rhymed sayings that Septimus and Wolf Boy (formerly Boy 412 and Boy 409) mouth to irk Jenna, like "Use your head or you are dead." And Jim Knee's mock formal and grand addresses to Septimus, like "O Excitable (or Exigent or Desperate or Displeased etc.) One" are funny. And Sage is good at writing unpredictable plots in which her appealing characters and her repulsive characters entertainingly collide. Syren also introduces some sf elements: a submarine, a palm-activated elevator, and a long-vanished culture from the Beyond based on science and technology rather than Magyk.
Reader Gerard Doyle does fine. I particularly like his cat-man Miarr, his Marcia in high-dudgeon, his lilting Snorri, and his Indian or Pakistani Jim Knee.
Probably my favorite book in the series so far has been the third, Physik, and the fourth, Queste has many more impressive descriptions than Syren, but this book has its moments: the unorthodox dance (swinging his arms like a windmill in a gale) that skipper Fry does when trying to locate some invisible interlopers on the deck of a ship; the uncanny clockwork dance that Syrah does when possessed; the view from inside Miarr's Red Capsule of the eerie undersea world; the reading of Syrah-Syren's diary when Jenna feels "like I watched someone being murdered"; Jakey Fry yearning to join the nighttime silhouettes of kids playing on an island. Fans of young adult magic-fantasy should give Sage's series a try.