It’s not surprising, really, that the latest Harry Potter release has highlighted other (better?) children’s magic and fantasy books. I read “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” last week, while in between volumes of Angie Sage’s “Septimus Heap” story. They are clearly written for different audiences, but it is funny to find echoes across books. It’s also interesting to compare when an author keeps you in her grip or just sort of twaddles along.
I enjoyed the first of the Septimus Heap books – Magyk – and liked Angie Sage’s use of the book’s type to highlight when magyk was being invoked. I immediately thought of J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore and his study when one of Sage’s characters rides up a corkscrew, magical staircase!
I had a similar echo when I started The Black Cauldron, Lloyd Alexander‘s terrific story that has hints of Welsh mythology embedded in them. It is the second in the 5 volume Chronicles of Prydain. But you’ve got the Marshes of Morva where old . . . somethings . . . live, which is similar to Sage’s Marram Marshes. And much of Alexander reminds, of course, of Tolkein.
The Potter books aren’t the best written although they’re enjoyable. I agreed with the NY Times review that a chapter of exposition made the Deathly Hallows a bit less gripping than it might have been. It was as if there were too many threads and they all needed wrapping up quickly.
Similarly, Sage’s Heap books are good – for a younger crowd than Harry Potter – and use not only simpler stories and language, but even the villains don’t seem as villainous. Flyte, the second book, lumbers along a bit but I can see a child devouring the entire set pretty quickly. I like Sage’s humor, which makes the entire set much lighter.
I haven’t reread the Alexander books in many years, but it is funny how differently I remember them from the last time. I did not have any recollection of Eilonwy at all, and so I’m enjoying her character and the flaws in Taran far more than I’m sure I ever did. I have a young reader who is trying out the early Potter books, and I’m going to encourage Alexander as an alternative – when she starts to reach the darker (and contextually too mature) books.
Need something even younger? Try Emily Rodda‘s Fairy Realm series which are very gentle and, like so many series books, use a far more formualic (and yet not tired) approach.