When Angie Sage rounded off her Septimus Heap books with Fyre in 2013, it looked like the close of one of the very best children's fantasy sequences. However, over the three subsequent years, she has continued with a sequel trilogy, Todhunter Moon, introducing a new generation of characters into the same world - and she is to be given enormous credit for extending and expanding that world so successfully. The latest trio of books is no disappointment, in fact very much the reverse. (See earlier posts.) Angie Sage has done what very few writers of such sequences have done so well. She had retained much of welcome familiarity, satisfying the longing for more of the same, whilst introducing enough new characters and story elements to keep everything very much alive and exciting. Not least, of course, she has now added a captivating girl protagonist, one who equals the charm and vulnerability of Septimus Heap whilst also providing another courageous world-saver with whom young readers will want to identify.
So many contemporary children's fantasies, including of course some wonderful modern classics, involve either children from our own world suddenly finding themselves in a fantasy one, or else magic invading our world to a greater or lesser degree. However Angie Sage has succeeded in creating a self-contained 'high fantasy' world, rich, complex and convincing, yet made it totally accessible and meaningful to her young readership. Her 'darke', leavened as it is with much delightful comedy, is threatening enough to be thrilling, yet not so gothically nightmarish as to be truly disturbing. Her 'good' characters are magical and special enough to be awesome, yet human enough to be totally captivating and to engender easy identification. The result is total involvement and commitment on the part of the reader to a story with endless excitement, suspense and ultimate satisfaction. These are books to truly feed the imaginations and indulge the fantasies of the young. They are however not simply escapist and readers will learn much from sharing the aspirations, dilemmas and, sometimes quiet, triumphs of this rich set of characters.
Starchaser itself brings the latest trilogy to a magnificent climax, revealing truly amazing and thrilling new aspects to the Pathfinders story, as Tod and her friends pursue a final quest to avoid the devastation of much they hold dear. The book cover carries the strap, 'The Magykal conclusion to the world of Septimus Heap,' and if this one really is the end, as it appears to be, it is a worthy culmination of a veritable triumph of children's fantasy. The book is a pure joy. Starchaser is undoubtedly one of the children's books of 2016, just as the series in its entirety is one of the real highlights of 21st century children's fiction.
Although the U.K. Edition is handsome enough in itself, I cannot finish without an enormous thank you to US publishers Bloomsbury/Katherine Tegen, as well as illustrator Mark Zug. I know that books are so much more than their covers, but these guys have consistently seen through the whole series, creating what to my mind is one of the most physically beautiful sets of children's books, a book-lover's aesthetic delight. And the production of the Todhunter Moon trilogy echoes its content in that these volumes looks sufficiently like the earlier ones to clearly belong to the full set, whilst still having a distinctive feel of their own. A triumph. And the illustrations are every bit as magical as the books. True enhancement. Sadly the UK editions are the poorer for their lack. Fortunately it is possible to source the US ones over here too.