CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 1. . . .September 4, 2015
The Sphere of Septimus.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2014.
135 pp., trade pbk., $9.95.
Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.
Review by Meredith Harrison-Lim.
Eric picked up a small dagger from the other table and studied the unusual script on the handle. It was just like the writing in the old book. “This stuff looks like it belongs in a museum.”
“Look at this,” Jessica said. “I think it’s the Mystic Triangle.” She handed Eric a diagram covered in scribbled notes and equations.
“Wow, you’re right,” said Eric. Then he picked up a small blue crystal sphere. “What’s this?”
Suddenly there was an ear splitting clap of thunder. Eric followed Jessica outside. A whirlpool of black clouds swirled high in the sky above the castle. Lightning flashed back and forth at the whirlpool’s centre.
“What the heck is that?” cried Jessica, mesmerized.
The crystal sphere in Eric’s palm pulsated with light. “It’s glowing,” he said.
The sphere shone brighter and brighter. Then the air rippled and opened up, revealing a city skyline of towers, pyramids and spires. Strange winged creatures flew above the city. A bolt of lightning struck the slate roof of the workshop, and Eric turned around.
“Eric!” Jessica screamed.
By the time he turned around, the strange city was gone. So was Jessica.
The Sphere of Septimus focuses on Eric, a 13-year-old boy visiting his father for the first time in eight years. His dad, Septimus Trinket, resides in the village of Middle Wogglehole with his unfriendly dog Toby. Middle Wogglehole is known as one of the most mysterious places in all of England, due to its Celtic Pagan and Roman Christian background. While Eric is skeptical of its mystical nature, he is quick to notice the unusual phenomena, such as shooting stars appearing in the middle of the day. He becomes friends with a teenage girl working in the local car shop who is happy to show him around the village and share about the town’s history. When they search Septimus’ workshop trying to find Toby, they discover all kinds of eccentric items, including a sphere which has very powerful abilities. Jessica is accidentally sent to another universe, and Eric, Septimus, and Toby quickly follow through the portal to save her. Eric discovers that Septimus and Toby, who turns out to not be a dog, are actually from the universe of Koronada and that it is a very dangerous place, war-torn and divided by an evil ruler called Galderon with a powerful sphere of his own. Eric is quickly separated from Toby and Septimus, and Septimus is presumed to be killed by one of Galderon’s creatures. Luckily, Eric and Jessica are both found by the Brotherhood of the Fallen, a group of individuals from all the different lands of Koronada who resist the rule of the evil dictator, and are quickly reunited.
Unfortunately, the numbers of the Brotherhood are constantly dwindling, given the number of vicious creatures ruled by Galderon who attack their camps. One of their new friends, Kiliya, teaches Eric and Jessica how to use the power of Septimus’ sphere, and they learn more of Galderon’s desire to dominate the universe using a sphere, either his own or the one within Eric’s possession. After Eric dreams of Septimus still being alive and his captivity by Galderon is confirmed through using the sphere, the Brotherhood is determined to rescue him despite the danger that the rescue mission presents. The mission and the fate of the universe depend on Septimus’ sphere and whether it is loyal to Eric or if Galderon can also wield it to his will.
Readers will enjoy the main characters, Eric and Jessica. Despite their newly formed friendship and being forced into terrifying and unexpected situations, they are adventurous and brave teenagers who seem to be fazed by very little. Eric, in particular, contends with his situation very well as he has been sent to spend his summer with his distant father without much notice. While his good natured response to the situations he finds himself in is likely unrealistic, his easygoing nature helps readers engage with this event-driven book.
The initial setting of Middle Wogglehole is described very well. Eric and Jessica’s conversations and explorations of the town help the fantasy aspect of book seem less contrived and out of place. Given that the book is placed in recent history, the events of the second half of the book could have seemed jarring if Eric was visiting his dad in a modern city. However, the background provided regarding the town’s history eases the transition into the plausibility of portals bringing individuals into other worlds, though, given the fantasy genre of the book, the events are still unrealistic.
The story is brief and fast-paced. This works well with the tone of the book which is light in spite of the dangerous circumstances Jessica and Eric are in throughout the second half of the book. However, the number of characters mentioned from the Brotherhood may cause readers confusion. The confusion, in part, may be due to their unusual names, such as Zaliya, Kilaya and Alcamarus. Given the length of the story, it is difficult to become familiar with these supporting characters. While the plot does not hinge on any of these supporting characters in particular, this may cause readers to be less engaged in the book.
Similarly, readers may find it difficult to keep track of the many different lands that are mentioned in the world of Koronada. Given the relative short length of the book, readers may not be invested enough to refer to the black and white map provided at the beginning of the book that could help resolve this issue. In turn, the references to the characters’ home lands may be lost on the readers. However, if the map is referred to, it provides additional value in helping readers follow along with Eric and Jessica’s route as they journey to find Septimus.
Occasionally the phrasing that is used in the book is unclear or misleading. For example, Toby disappears and reappears throughout the story for different reasons that are not always explained. At one point, he returns after saying he was captured by the evil dictator Galderon, but narrowly escaped. A member of the Brotherhood comments on his luck with narrowed eyes. While the implication seems to be that the characters is suspicious that Toby is a spy or traitor, the book does not refer to this possibility any further.
Additionally, even though the idea of Toby being a spy is not pursued, his disappearances do trigger major events in the plot, such as Eric and Jessica finding Septimus’ sphere and travelling to Koronada. A reader could be dissatisfied that these actions are not more clearly accounted for. Toby’s actions of running off when Eric and Jessica take him for a walk and then conveniently reappearing with Septimus once Jessica has been transported to another land should require an explanation, particularly after it is revealed that Toby is not actually a dog, but rather just stays in that form while he is on earth.
Overall, youth readers will enjoy this fantasy novel, though it is somewhat brief and light in contrast to other classic fantasy novels that could also be appropriate for the audience. However, the language in The Sphere of Septimus is appropriate for the audience, and the length may be more suitable for younger readers or those who are new to the fantasy genre.
Meredith Harrison-Lim is a MLIS graduate working in the National Capital Region.
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