Magyk by Angie Sage

[rating=3] Poor Angie Sage. How annoying, to write a book about a young wizard right in the midst of Harry Potter mania! Comparisons are unavoidable, and reading ‘Magyk’ in the shadow of Rowling’s legacy makes it difficult to properly evaluate the characters and plot without drawing mental links between Boggart and Hagrid, DomDaniel and Voldemort, that leave an adult reader feeling dissatisfied with the world of Magyk.

It is, however, important to keep in mind that this IS a different book, with different strengths and weaknesses. It is written for a younger audience than HP: many scary parts are played down or narrated from the perspective of an historic event. There’s less suspense and many breaks for play and mundane activities that slow the forward momentum enough to let small children relax after a scary chase or a bad turn of events.

There are many nods to classic children’s fiction, including things that made me groan in pain, such as the Heaps’ address at “There and Back Again Row” (Grrraauugggghhh! Tolkien is rolling in his grave). If you like Edith Nesbit or Enid Blyton you’ll see a lot of their influence.

The first 150 pages were not to my taste. I struggled through them, but found the last half of the book picked up and caught my interest. Sage’s strength lies in her love of boating and wet places. Once the focus of the story moves away from the castle and into the marshes, the author relaxes into her own world of old British coastal ways that don’t feature strongly in Rowling’s franchise – the salty ways of sailors and bogs, mists and mud, bad cooking and swamp creatures: these parts shine.

Several technical aspects of the book annoyed me no end. I found the use of a special, bolded font for all Magykal words to be deeply irritating.

I did not enjoy the mish-mash of different verb tenses, narrative voices and points of view, particularly the heavy use of flashbacks.

I must also complain about the many, many convenient interventions by previously unknown devices that saved the day for our young adventurers. Deus ex Machina is everywhere. Being attacked by a scary wizard in a deadly boat? Not to worry, here’s a secret boat you never knew you had! Being hunted by a man who is going to set you on fire? Not to worry, just use the magic anti-death charm someone gave you last week!

If Horace had been the editor on hand for the first read-through of this script, it would still be languishing on the bottom of the slush pile. Happily, he wasn’t.

To conclude, this book is a fun read… for little kids. It is NOT one of the hot new Young Adult crossovers that get printed with a second, Adult version of the cover. As a thirty-something, I can say that while I would enjoy reading this story aloud to an 8- to 10-year-old, it was too young for me to enjoy on my own.

Other great reads for young’uns who like magic, mystery and adventure!

1) Enid Blyton’s ‘The Secret Seven’

2) E. Nesbit’s ‘Five Children and It’

3) C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Magician’s Nephew’

4) John Bellairs’ ‘Curse of the Blue Figurine’

3 of 5 stars / bookshelves: read, sci-fi/fantasy, 364 pages, Publisher: Scholastic (2005) Read from May 14 to 17, 2012

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