Monday, July 4, 2011

Book Review: The Alchemyst

My mother is a librarian.  She just retired at the end of the school year, but for the past 20 years or so, she's been a Jr. High/Elementary school librarian.  She knows I prefer to read fantasy and sci-fi, but the only works within those genres she really knows are those that her students read.  So last Christmas, she sent me a young adult fantasy novel as a present. 

That book is The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel, by Michael Scott.  It's a YA fantasy, so comparisons to the current 800 lb. gorilla of YA fantasy, Harry Potter, are bound to happen.  And there are some similarities. 

You've got a secret world of magic and monsters hidden within the real world, and most folks don't know it.  You've got teenage protagonists, twins in this instance, on a Bildungsroman/Hero Journey. 

There are some fairly major differences, however.  First of all, the book is not long, and is really a quick read.  I read it over the course of three days during my break times at work, so maybe a total of 5-6 hours to complete the 360-ish page book.  And the plot moves along quite quickly, similar to a Dan Brown adventure.  It's mostly action, not so much focused on the magical education of the twins (which is incomplete and rather slipshod in this first book of the series--that's not a fault, it's actually one of the plot points to be that way). 

The biggest difference, however, is that Scott pulls all of his characters besides the twins from history or myth.  Both Nicolas Flamel and the antagonist Dr. John Dee were historical, given long life through alchemy.  Flamel takes on the mentor role of the twins when Dee steals the Book of Abraham the Mage and kidnaps Flamel's wife Perenelle.  Dee doesn't get all of the book however, so his plans to usher in the return of the Elders, the gods and heroes of myth who are actually just an older human-like race (similar to Tolkien's elves, only more magical).  The Elders are not united, and some help Flamel and the twins, some help Dee.

The cast of Elders run the gamut from Celtic (Scott is Irish, so it's not surprising the Morrigan and Scathach, two Celtic figures of myth, are introduced early), to Greco-Persian (Hekate) to Jewish (golems and the Witch of Endor).  Any god, monster or hero of mythology in our world is actually an Elder, an Immortal (such as Flamel and Dee), or is somehow related to them, and to the lost epoch 10,000 years ago, that the Elders ruled.

It's taken me six months to get around to finally reading it, but I'm glad I did finally read it.  It was a fun adventure story, and had some interesting new ideas about magic and mythology and how they relate to our modern world.  However, they are YA books, and the reading level is not very challenging, and the plot is fairly direct. 

Most of my blog readers will likely be 'too old' for the book (and the four or five sequels -- not sure I'll get around to reading them myself, but maybe someday...).  But you may enjoy it, and if you've got kids who enjoy fantasy, I'd bet they may really dig this book.

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