Saturday, December 16, 2006

Here, There Be Dragons - James A Owen

James A Owen's Here, There Be Dragons, subtitled The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, has an interesting idea at its heart - that there exists an Atlas of all the Imaginary Lands ever created by authors. Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to its promise for this reader.

The story opens with three Oxford men who are brought in for questioning as the result of a Professor's death in London in March 1917. As a result they become companions on a voyage through the Archipelago of Dreams, after one of the men is named as the Caretaker Principia for the Imaginarium Geographica. During their journey they defeat the usurper to the Silver Throne, and restore the rightful king. The three men are Jack, John and Charles. Their exact identities aren't revealed until the end of the book (although I'd already found it out by accident), along with the premise that their journey later became the germ of their subsequent fiction. The men are C S Lewis (Jack), Charles Williams and J R R Tolkien. And right there is where I hit a problem with this book. I am a huge fan of Tolkien's works and I know a good deal about his life as well as his books, and he was never, ever called "John". As a boy he was known as "Ronald" (his second name) and as a man he was known as "Tolkien" (or "Tollers" to his friends). There is the fact that Tolkien, Lewis and Williams never met until after the First World War - and the fact that Owen's "Jack" talks of considering joining up, but by March 1917, Lewis was already a member of the Malvern Contingent of the Oxford University OTC, with the intention of doing his "bit" in the War.

One of the other things that I found massively irritating was that "John", who was being trained up for his role as a Caretaker by Professor Sigurdsson, claimed that he hadn't been getting on with his studies, because it didn't seem important: "Ancient languages that no one else could read..." (p. 70) - that is just so antithetical to the real life Tolkien, who adored languages, old and new, and invented so many of his own as well. He spent hours learning ancient languages (such as Gothic) when he should have been getting on with his assigned studies, that his assigned studies suffered. It was at this point that I almost abandoned this book.

I think this book might have worked better if Owen had created three entirely fictional characters for his main protagonists, rather than using three real life authors, two of whom are very well known indeed. I was puzzled by the fact that whilst "John" is the Caretaker Principia, his character is never very well developed, and certainly not as well developed as that of "Jack". And I found Owen's remarks about J M Barrie (who was supposedly an earlier Caretaker Principia) distasteful. All in all, I found this to be a reasonably good idea that was disappointingly executed. Here, There Be Dragons is also available from

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Septimus Heap: Flyte - Angie Sage

I had hoped that Angie Sage's Flyte, the second book in the Septimus Heap series (and a Cybils nomination), would be a bit better than the first. Less of a Harry Potter-clone and more 3-D characters. Unfortunately this wasn't the case.

It's been a year since Septimus Heap discovered his real family and his true destiny to be a Wizard. As Apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand, he is learning the fine arts of Magyk, whilst his adopted sister, Jenna, is adapting to life as the Princess and enjoying the freedom of the Castle. But before they can get really settled into their new lives, the evil Necromancer DomDaniel, whom they had thought had been disposed of, is still affecting their lives and something Darke is stirring. A Shadow pursues the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, following her every move and affecting her concentration as it grows stronger every day. Then Jenna is snatched taken by a rather unlikely kidnapper, his eldest brother Simon. And when I say, unlikely, I do mean unlikely. Simon is little more than a cipher - he's a very one dimensional version of Percy Weasley, who goes over to the Darke side, not because he's ambitious, but because he's jealous of Septimus' place in his family and he's been thwarted in his supposed love affair with a most unsuitable young woman named Lucy Gringe (who, by the way, has a brother named Rupert Gringe, whom I kept thinking of as "Rupert Grint" thanks the intense Harry Potterism of this book !)

This book was as big a disappointment as the first one. The set up is really good and I really liked some of the characters: Jenna is a no-nonsense girl and both Aunt Zelda and Marcia Overstrand are strong females, but the business of Simon's kidnapping of Jenna was unconvincing - and Jenna's escape from Simon Heap was equally unconvincing and relied far too heavily on coincidence, as did just about everything else in this book. I kept hoping the book would get better, but it just didn't happen. I hate writing negative reviews, but I can't, in all honesty, find much that's positive to say about this book or its predecessor.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Septimus Heap: Magyk - Angie Sage

Angie Sage's Magyk is the first book of a series about a young wizard called Septimus Heap, who is born the seventh son of a seventh son and apparently died shortly after birth. The very fact that the series is named after a supposedly dead character gives away the "secret" that he's not dead, only stolen away. And it feels as if the book went downhill from there onwards. Septimus is born to a family of Wizards and there was no telling what he might have become, since his lineage as a seventh son would have made him unbelievably Magykal. On the winter night when Septimus apparently died, his father, Silas, found another newborn child in the forest. He and his wife named her Jenna, and she grew up thinking that she was the daughter of Silas and Sarah Heap, and the sister of six older brothers - Simon, Sam, Edd and Erik the twins, Nicko, and Jo-Jo. It doesn't take Sarah Heap long to realise that Jenna is really the daughter of the murdered Queen.

Over the next ten years, Darknesse comes to the Castle and the Ramblings, the area where the Heaps live. The Supreme Custodian, along with his willing servants, ban Magyk and end the happiness the Queen's people knew before her death. As the Heap family attempts to ride out this time of Darknesse, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand, learns of a plot to kill the Princess as she is the only Major Obstacle preventing DomDaniel, a terrible Necromancer, from returning to the Castle. Jenna, Nicko, Silas, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Maxie (the Heaps' wolfhound) and a Young Army recruit known only as Boy 412 escape to the Marram Marshes, where they hope the Heaps' Aunt Zelda, a White Witch, will be able to keep them from harm. As DomDaniel does everything within his power to track down the girl standing between him and a ruling Darknesse, the Heap family have to do everything within their means to stop him - and at the same time stay alive.

So much for the plot. What really bothered me about the book was the number of similarities between this and the Harry Potter series. The Heaps are clearly poor relations to the Weasleys (Jenna even sounds a bit like Ginny, there are seven children in the family, including twin boys). It was quite obvious at a very early stage after his introduction that Boy 412 was really Septimus Heap, despite the red herring of DomDaniel's Apprentice claiming to be Septimus. Septimus discovers that he is Magykal (he also discovers a magical ring in a dark tunnel - shades of The Hobbit !), but cannot believe or accept it initially, and he even has green eyes. I won't bore you with a complete list of the similarities, but I can't help feeling there are too many for comfort.

The premise of this book is good - Sage has an interesting set up with the Magyk and the opposing Darknesse, and some of the characters are intriguing, although others are so one dimensional as to be mere ciphers.