Fyre. Septimus Heap Book 7 by Angie Sage. Narrated by Gerard Doyle.
This is the last book in the long-running Septimus Heap series. I’d read the first few books in the series back in 2007, when they were still relatively new, and then started again at the beginning with my son when he was six. He’s now almost nine, and it’s been two years since the previous book, so that it took both of us some time to work our way back into the story and remember all of the many characters.
Our three main characters here are Septimus Heap, Apprentice to the Extraordinary Wizard, Jenna, the Princess, and Beetle, now the Chief Hermetic Scribe. It’s a little odd from an adult standpoint to have three fifteen-year-olds running or almost running the whole castle, but satisfying on a narrative level. All of them have matured a lot since we first met them, and it’s satisfying to see them doing well.
As our story opens, the Extraordinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand, is working with Marcellus Pye, the last surviving Alchemist (due only to time travel) to rebuild the great Alchemical Fyre that was put out in Marcellus’s own time several hundred years earlier, so that they can use it to destroy the evil Two-Faced Ring. This is very hard for Marcia, as all Extraordinaries must swear to prevent any resurgence of Alchemy. However, she consents to Septimus having a month-long Alchemy apprenticeship so that he can help Marcellus with the Fyre. Meanwhile, Jenna is getting close enough to her coronation that it’s finally legal for her to meet the ghost of her mother. But two strong-willed women getting to know each other for the first time is pretty much guaranteed not to go smoothly.
The book is long – over 700 pages in print or 13 discs – and the plot rambles on, always with something exciting going on, but never in a straight trajectory. Funny alternates with serious. There’s room for each favorite character to take a turn getting into trouble or saving the day or figuring out where his or her life should go next. Nearly every character is well rounded, both good and bad guys shown with a mix of sympathetic and annoying traits. The Marcia Overstrand has trouble showing warmth and wears those annoying Pointy Purple Python Shoes, but she still loves Septimus and really knows what she’s doing as the Extraordinary Wizard, for example. The world of the Castle is vividly drawn, too, making this whole series excellent especially for people who read for character
Now, as I’m writing about it, I’m trying to decide if it did that masterful job of tying up all the loose ends with a spectacular finish, the way a good series should end. I’m not really sure. But my boy and I listened eagerly to it, and he now wants to start over again at the beginning, at least as soon as we finish Harry Potter. We’ve enjoyed it very much on audio, but the print books are nicely designed as well – all very fat, but with a nice magical-feeling type face and pencil illustrations.