The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
Final Verdict: 2.75 out of 4.0
The Alchemyst by Michael Scott is book one in “The Secrets of The Immortal Nicholas Flamel,” a YA fantasy series often likened to Harry Potter. Sophie and Josh Newman, teenagers and twins, have spent most of their lives moving from place to place. Their parents are architects who are always on the move, searching for that next big find. Because of this, the twins have become used to instability and are rather adept at adapting. This is fortunate because, one day, the strange bookshop owner who Josh works for, Nick Fleming, is attacked by a powerful and legendary magician, Dr. John Dee, and his golem minions. Immediately, Josh and Sophie are swept off by Fleming, torn from their family and told that they might just be the two people who will become responsible for saving the world, as the prophecies say. The twins are thrust into an underworld filled with ancient legends, dark and powerful gods, bitter rivalries, and the many varied forms of magic, alchemy, sorcery, and science – and, soon, their own powers are to be awakened.
While many people have told me that this is their second favorite fantasy series, after Harry Potter, I am not quite as convinced or enthralled. I do plan to read the next book in the series, and hopefully finish the entire thing at some point. However, one of the weakest elements for The Alchemyst was, in my opinion, its characters – and characters/characterization is always an important story element for me. The main characters, Sophie and Josh, are thrown into the major plot so quickly; there is little time to learn anything about them. Then, as things continue to happen, we do see certain elements of their personalities (mostly told, not shown), such as Josh’s potential jealousies, Sophie’s insecurities, and the fact that they have learned to love & protect each other as a result of not just being siblings, but also having absent parents who move around so much. Still, there was so little depth to them, and even less to the secondary characters. Nicholas Flamel’s love-story with Penelope is interesting, but not entirely relevant. I wish the pace of the story would have slowed down so that the characters could have had more time to interact and so that the narrative itself could have told us more about them, their histories, and their motivations. Maybe this will happen in later books – but as a stand-alone examination of this first book, I must say I was disappointed.
That being said, the book is largely an action-fantasy or fantasy-adventure story, and the prose and structure are certainly fitting. The language and vocabulary are appropriate for the reading level, and the pages definitely turn (which is both a pro and a con, in this case). In addition to a strong style, there are many historical and mythological elements of the book which are interesting and educational, something I enjoy quite a bit in fantasy stories of this level (the reason why I love the Rick Riordan books so much – they are fun and they teach us things). I particularly enjoy the exploration of “auras” as a type of power and individuality. Still, I felt that much of the time, Scott was throwing his mythological characters into the story for the sake of having them and to show off just how much he had researched about these ancient tales. The gods (Elders) pop-up all over the place, as do the immortals, mythological beasts, etc. There is a whole lot happening all of the time, which is fine for keeping one occupied, but upon reflection, I realize it left me with a sense of time spent pleasantly, simply, but unsatisfactorily. This first book, I felt, was interesting and fun. It has some great historical/mythological foundations to pull from, and the Author’s Note at the end of the book, which tells of Scott’s research into Flamel, is fantastic. But, ultimately, it was a bit of a shallow reading experience. If you are looking for a fun fantasy tale that won’t necessarily leave you thinking about it afterwards, this might be a good book for you.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: MG/YA
Interest: Fantasy, Mythology, Alchemy, Siblings, Twins, Family, Absent Parents
“[Humans] barely look, they rarely listen, they never smell, and they think they can only experience feelings through their skin. But they talk, oh, do they talk. That makes up for the lack of use of their other senses.” (149-50)
“Once begun, change cannot be reversed.” (225)