Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 TBR Reading Challenge: The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The Alchemyst: The Secrets of The Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
My Categories: children's, fantasy, male author
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Recommended Read

This is another middle grade book that my daughter recommended I read. After my success with The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan, I was willing to take her suggestion without hassling her with reluctance. Another stellar read, and now my daughter's two for two with her recommendations.

I admit to a slow start to this book, until I stopped seeing this as a lame adult book and looked at it as the middle-grade novel it is. Then the pace picked up right away, and it was exciting. There's a lot of historical truth to the story. It's well-researched for the knowns and very well-imagined for the unknowns. I found myself staying up late towards the end to finish it.

Twin fifteen-year-olds Sophie and Josh Newman are working summer jobs in San Francisco at a coffee shop and a bookshop, respectively. Josh's boss is Nicholas Fleming, but in truth, he's an alchemist, Nicholas Flamel, who's been alive since 1330. His wife Perry (aka Perenelle) is older than him, but neither look a day over fifty.

Historical Note: There's an Auberge Nicholas Flamel in Paris that's been around for six hundred years where a real-life Nicholas Flamel lived and worked and was famous for alchemy. Paris's 4th Arrondissement boasts the rue Nicholas Flamel and the rue Perenelle. Flamel was said to have died in 1418, but later when his tomb was broken into, they found it to be empty and rumors of his immortality took flight.

In Scott's book, Flamel is indeed immortal and the reason behind it is the secret recipe in the Codex Book of Abraham the Mage, which he carries with him everywhere. Flamel's past catches up to him in the form of Dr. John Dee, once his student, then his enemy.

Historical Note: John Dee was a brilliant magician and spy from the court of Queen Elizabeth I. He signed his coded messages "007". (I am not making this up.) The "00" represented the eyes of the queen and the symbol that looked like a "7" was Dee's personal mark.

In Scott's book, Dee is a magician of immense power. He's also immortal, though how he becomes so is not explained (well, at least not in this first book of the series.)

There is this concept in the story that before the age of humans, ten thousand years ago, on the island of Atlantis, there lived the First Generation of Elders. This included goddesses Bastet, Hekate, Morrigan, the Witch of Endor, and others. Two thousand years ago, came the Next Generation of Elders, such as Scathach, the warrior. However, some of the elders have turned over to evil and become the Dark Elders. They want to wipe out the humans from the planet. Bastet and the Morrigan are among these Dark Elders, and their human stooge who can facilitate this is Dee. That is how he came to be Flamel's enemy. He wants the Codex that Flamel so zealously guards. The Codex contains many codes and secrets, besides the immortality recipe, which would enable the Dark Elders to gain supremacy.

As the story opens, Josh is working for Flamel and Sophie is in the coffee shop across from the street of the bookshop. Dee, along with three mud Golems, pays a visit to Flamel. Much magic gets thrown around using their respective auras, which have fragrances. Dee's has a rotten eggs smell, Flamel's a minty smell. The end result of this is that Dee snatches Perenelle and all but the last two pages of the Codex and hies off to his superiors. En route, he realizes that he's missing the crucial last two pages. And so begins the adventure.

In the meantime, our intrepid trio have met up with Scathach the warrior, who lives in a dojo in SF's Chinatown. Rats, who pose as seeing eyes for Dee, trail them to Scathach's doorstep and attempt to attack. The foursome fight free with fifteen-year-old Josh with a driver's permit, not license, at the wheel of an SUV and head over to the Golden Gate Bridge. Dee summons the Morrigan's crows to attack. Flamel, in turn, summons the wind to drive away the crows. The foursome escape to the safety of Hekate's Shadowrealm.

A shadowrealm is a place normally where humans cannot enter, or if they do, they're irretrievably changed. There, Hekate discovers that all is not normal with Sophie and Josh. Josh has a pure gold aura and Sophie a pure silver one. This rare purity means that if they're awakened to their full magic potential, they would become very powerful.

While Hekate is debating the pros and cons of awakening the twins, the Morrigan has summoned the help of Bastet and her cats. As Bastet starts making her way up north from LA, Hekate succeeds in awakening Sophie, but she has no time to awaken Josh.

The battle between the Elders, their warriors, Dee with his Excalibur sword — this story is a mashup of all kinds of mythologies, so why not Arthur, too? — Flamel, Scathach, and the twins is of epic proportions (and exciting to read. I couldn't read it fast enough.) This is the first time, Sophie gets a taste of the power she wields. Of course, Perenelle hasn't been lying dormant. She's a magician of note, too, and channels herself into Sophie during the battle and at various times to exchange messages with Flamel.

As Hekate and her ruined Shadowrealm are dying a fast death, our foursome break free with Josh at the wheel of a Hummer this time and head south to Ojai, CA and to Endor. There she helps train Sophie in understanding all the history and struggles and powers of being an Elder and how to cope with the ultra sensitivity of her senses that being awakened means.

In the meantime, Josh is afraid of who Sophie's become and jealous, too. Also, Dee has discovered that Josh has a pure gold aura and remains unawakened. He pushes the Morrigan into agreeing to awaken Josh and bring him over to the dark side. So off he goes to Ojai to capture Josh. But he is thwarted in his endeavor, despite his brilliant magic that brings all the centuries-old skeletons to life to fight for him. The foursome step through a leygate in Endor's shop and step into Paris. The shop blows up, sparing Endor, but possibly killing Dee. That last part is made to seem probable, but not a hundred percent possible.

And that's the fabulous story. There are five other books in this series that I hope to pick up soon.


Jennifer said...

I've been wanting to read this for awhile! I do love a good middle grade fantasy and The Alchemyst looks right up my alley. Thanks for the detailed review!

azteclady said...

Your daughter has impeccable taste--this sounds awesome!

Keira Soleore said...

Jennifer, welcome. Thanks for reading. The middle grade fantasy books these days are pretty exciting, imaginative stories with good character development. The stakes are clear, the motivations of the characters are clear, the suspense elements are well done—just super storytelling.

Keira Soleore said...

Azteclady, thank you for your kind words. As you know, I'm two for two with my daughter. Her next recommendation is "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson. Have you read that one? I knew it won the NBA last year and the attendant controversy surrounding it, but I had forgotten about it till my daughter read it. From what she's told me, it's superb.

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