If you find yourself wishing there were more Harry Potter books to read, or just want something similar but don’t want to re-read the series for the hundredth time, I definitely have a book series for you: Septimus Heap by Angie Sage. This seven book, middle grade series is a nice, quick read, and the pages fly by, but it is by no means dumbed down or simplistic. It is filled with all the things that gave me the thrill of excitement I first got when I read Harry Potter. And it has excellent female characters. In fact, I think I just discovered my most favorite female character in any book I’ve ever read.
Here’s how it does on the Her Story Arc Scale of Inclusivity:
Not offensive to women* = 1 pt
It’s not offensive to women, and I would even say it just puts aside the issue of sexism altogether. The world of Septimus Heap seems a utopia where both women and men, boys and girls, are all treated equally. It was a lot of fun to explore a world like that, and I haven’t seen any other series pull it off so convincingly. There’s only one character who doesn’t get the whole equality thing, a villain, who later realizes his error and tries to make amends.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts
Septum Heap is only one of several main characters. In fact, I often questioned whether he was the main character at all; he doesn’t even play a large role in the first book, Magyk. Instead, it is the dynamic character of Jenna Heap, adopted little sister to Septimus and youngest of 8 siblings, who comes of age throughout the series. I loved watching her grow up. Septimus and Jenna reminded me so much of watching Harry, Ron, & Hermoine grow.
Many other women characters have their own side stories throughout the series as well. Almost too many to count. Let’s see, there’s seven main female characters from which the story is told in their point of view, and eight minor characters who pop up every now and then and have a story all their own.
Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts
Most definitely. There are numerous times women talk with each other about things other than men. And even the extremely minor female characters who only appear for a scene or two have names. In fact, I can’t remember a single time when I encountered a female character who wasn’t named, and for whom the author didn’t go out of her way to give me a short introduction about their life and feelings. Angie Sage does characters very well, and that includes all her female ones.
I particularly enjoyed the conversations between generations of queens (except the awful Queen Etheldredda. Shudder.) Seeing as how the Heaps live in a matriarchal society, it was fascinating to watch the passing of royal establishments and traditions from one queen to the next and hear the conversations between them about how to run a kingdom.
Also, any conversation between the ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand and Mrs. Heap is pure entertainment. You just know there are going to be fireworks whenever those two meet up. Think Professor McGonagall and Mrs. Weasley arguing whenever they cross paths. It’s just fantastic.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts
Oh the things I could say! Angie Sage is an incredible writer and she knows just how to get you hooked on a character. But neither does she tease the reader by showing them little bits of a character’s life and then moving on, never divulging how they turned out. In fact, at the end of almost every book she gives a short synopsis of what has happened to them if she didn’t tell their story in the main book. She clearly has thought hard about each and every character and cares just as much for them as the reader does.
Marcia Overstrand, a vain and powerful wizard who has a kind heart which she only grudgingly shows once in a while, is the best character I have ever read. She is talented and overbearing at first, but as the series goes on we get to see her hopes, dreams, and personal struggles, none of which takes away from the awesome and fearful character introduced to us at the beginning. She is Minerva McGonagall in every way, but with twenty pairs of identical purple python shoes and easily irritated by people who don’t make sense, even if what they are trying to tell her might save the day.
The characters in Septimus Heap do change and learn over the course of the books, but they also remain the same. Characters who always worry do so even at the happiest of times. Those who are silly remain silly even in the face of great darkness. One character that I really came to care about was so important to me that when they lost their job I was depressed for a week, just like I was when Hagrid was sent to Azkaban. (But it was a good kind of depression….you know…because it was exciting being concerned about a character from a book…hard to explain but if you’re a reader I’m sure you understand.)
These books were incredibly entertaining and absorbing, and in general just made me really happy. Towards the end of the series I realized that I didn’t care if the plot was moving forward or not, I was just content to listen to the characters talk with each other. The names of the characters alone are fascinating. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about a character named Syrah Syara? And there’s a bit of an ancient Egyptian influence, including Hotep-Ra himself. I’d almost call this Egyptian-punk.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts
I think I’ve already shared why this gets 5 pts, but to recap, Angie Sage goes above and beyond by depicting a matriarchal society that no one makes a big deal about. It seems natural and accepted and there is no weirdness about it. But neither are the male characters marginalized. There are some pretty great guy characters too (like the four Heap brothers who go wild…think Weasley Twins times two). There’s even a Percy Weasley equivalent (Simon Heap).
True equality is something I can only imagine, and even my imagination gets it wrong because I don’t have a lot of good examples to refer to. But the Septimus Heap series is one of those good ones, and it warms me to the heart in every way. In these books, women as well as men can be good, bad, in-between, play major and minor roles, be consumed or inhabited by evil forces, be powerful wizards or witches, turn villain then back again, and so much more. If you need a heart-warming adventure that takes your breath away, and are missing being able to read Harry Potter for the first time, then pick up these books.
That is why I give Septiums Heap 15 out of 15 points.
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*This is a category that could get very complicated, very quickly, if we tried to list everything that could be offensive to women. Instead, we use this category as a way of showing our own personal reaction to whatever we are reviewing. All contributors to this site are women and can speak from a woman’s perspective. However, no woman can speak for all women so we do our best to explain our choice one way or the other. We encourage all readers to share their opinions in the comments of every post if they want to express agreement or disagreement with our rankings.