There aren't many books that begin with the death of the title character, but that's exactly what happens in Magyk, the first in the six-novel Septimus Heap series. It's a dramatic and mysterious opening to Angie Sage's inventive take on the world of wizard apprentices. If you think wizard tales are all a bit five-years-ago, think again: Septimus Heap is a hero like no other.
Septimus, the seventh son of a seventh son, is destined to have potent wizarding powers. But Silas and Sarah Heap are devastated when the midwife announces that their newborn baby is stillborn. The midwife rushes away with the dead baby, leaving the Heaps to grieve. But the night is not yet over.
As he wanders aimlessly in the darkness, Silas sees a bundle of rags lying in the snow. On closer inspection, he sees it's a newborn baby girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take the baby in, call her Jenna and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious girl? Could she have been sent to replace their son?
This intriguing and totally gripping opening sets the tone for the rest of Magyk. Sage quickly sets her scene, introducing us to the realm in which the Heaps live. It's ruled by the all-powerful Supreme Custodian who has murdered the rightful Queen and banished her ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstand, to the Wizard Tower.
The Supreme Custodian is under the power of the Necromancer DomDaniel, who wants to bring the entire land under his control. There is only one force that can stop DomDaniel's corruption spreading - but it was supposed to lie in the hands of the child set to be called Septimus. But as he died, all hope died with him. Or did it?
Jenna leads a peaceful life until one day Marcia herself appears and tells Silas that the Supreme Custodian has sent an assassin to kill Jenna. The three of them escape into the Marram marshes, accompanied by a young guard called Boy 412, and the adventure moves into top gear.
Magyk is great fun, and once the action and intrigue crank up, the book really grabs you tightly. Sage has a great imagination, a wry sense of humour and a fine talent for plot pacing and characterisation. Magyk was released in 2005, and five more instalments have been released, with the seventh due out next year. So once you race through Magyk - and you will - you don't have to sit around for long, waiting for more.
John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]