04 August 2012

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (2007)

Not to be out done by Rick Riordon and his intermediate kids series Percy Jackson and the Olympians series which dealt with Greek Myths, Michael Scott takes on the life and myths of the real life alchemist Nicholas Flamel and his wife, Perenelle in The Alchemyst: The Secret Life of Nicholas Flamel.

According to Wikipedia, Flamel was the most accomplished of the European alchemists. As Deborah Harkness  -a well-regarded historian of science and medicine, specializing in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries- put it, "Others thought Flamel was the creation of 17th-century editors and publishers desperate to produce modern printed editions of supposedly ancient alchemical treatises then circulating in manuscript for an avid reading public." The essence of his reputation are claims that he succeeded at the two magical goals of alchemy: that he made the Philosopher's Stone, which turns common metals into gold and ordinary stones into precious gems, and that he and his wife Perenelle achieved immortality through the "Elixir of Life".

So it is with idea that Scott begins a six-book series detailing what may have happened to Flamel and his wife in the 15th Century. While it was recorded that his wife died first, and Flamel died in March of 1418, when their tomb was broken into sometime later, both bodies were missing.

So the book starts in present time where we meet Sophie and Josh Newman, 15 year-old twins, who are working at their summer jobs in San Francisco when a mysterious man, John Dee (another real, historical person), comes into Josh's workplace for a book, the Codex – or Book of Abraham the Mage. Sophie and Josh witness Nick and Perry, the book store's owners, using magic. They discover that Nick is not an ordinary bookseller, but is the medieval alchemyst, Nicholas Flamel, being kept alive by making the elixir of life (a secret from the Codex) for him and his wife, Perry (Perenelle). Dee also uses magic and takes the Codex by force while Josh is holding it – resulting in two pages being left behind. Both Flamels need the Codex to make the elixir of life, or they will age rapidly and die within a month. Also, if they do not retrieve the Codex, Dee will summon the Dark Elders to destroy the world and return to an age in which humans are but slaves and food.

While I enjoyed Riordon’s work, I struggled with Scott’s first book in his series. Perhaps it’s because both authors are basically working of the same template, and since Riordon’s work came first, I comparing them too closely. Part of my problem maybe understanding the world of twins; both Josh and Sophie are disgustingly nice to each other. This, to me, doesn’t create enough conflict; which is strange when John Dee decides to turn Josh against his Nicholas Flamel. 

Again, like any multi volume series, there is too much of info-dumping going on here that it sometimes gets distracting. Oddly, it slows the book down to a crawl as author Scott tries to connect major historical events to the Flamel’s and John Dee. And the whole good-vs.-evil and kids-with-secret-powers theme –explored through Harry Potter and other young adult kid’s books (as well as adult ones) get tedious after a while.

And Scott tries to balance out the story with humor that seems more forced and paint-by-number –like a Nickelodeon comedy series- than spoken in real life. Perhaps these novels appeal to young-adults and their parents who read this stuff. I’m wanting, I guess, something more complex (though less than 600 pages, please).

Perhaps, in the end, I’ve become jaded with the fantasy novels. Its great authors are trying to break-out of the mold of magical swords and rings, but by making kids have these unknown secret powers, they’ve replaced one cliché with another.

The movie version of this book begins production next year in Australia.  

1 comment:

SEAN said...

I thought he was just a character that the first Harry Potter book was based on.