Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Alchemyst (Michael Scott)

The Alchemyst
(The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, Book 1)
Michael Scott
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Fifteen-year-old twins Josh and Sophie never expected their summer jobs to change their lives forever. But when a strange man and his unnatural brutes destroy the bookshop where Josh works - right across the road from Sophie's coffee shop gig - their whole world turns upside-down. The bookshop owner isn't just an eccentric middle-aged man, but Nicholas Flamel, a medieval French alchemist kept alive by a secret elixir in a long-lost Codex. The attacker was none other than Dr. Dee, famed astrologist and magician to Elizabeth I, whose Dark Elder masters have long sought Flamel's Codex for their own purposes. During the strike, Dee snatches the Codex... but Josh manages to hold on to two important pages. Now he and Sophie are on the run from Dee's allies and minions, accompanied by Flamel and the warrior vampire Scathach. Along the way, they learn more than they ever wanted to know about magic, Elders, and more - not to mention their own grim place in a prophecy at least as old as humanity itself.

REVIEW: I've read recommendations for this series from many sources, so I finally decided to give it a try. The story starts out with potential and very little lag time before events pick up... a breakneck momentum that carries throughout much the story almost to the point of numbness. However, there are breaks now and again - including entire chapters that seem to exist merely to relate backstory infodumps. Scott tends to repeat himself, sometimes within a few paragraphs, as though not trusting the reader to learn things the first time around. Perhaps by extension, Sophie and Josh prove singularly dense about their changed circumstances. Over halfway through the book, having seen and touched and even smelled magic in many undeniable forms (including a face-to-face encounter with the Elder Hecate, inspiration for the goddess cult, and her home in a great tree grown from the seed of the Norse world-tree Yggdrasil), and having been in enough danger to know that they're in way over their heads and need protection... still the twins are looking for the "hidden cameras" and decide their best option is to run away - in a move that does little but highlight their own stupidity. At this point, I honestly almost put the book down. Between Scott cramming just about every myth, magical tradition, and urban legend into the narrative and these two dimwits, not to mention having half a hundred new creatures and powers and Elders and such thrown at me ever ten pages or so, I was just about burned out - not just on this book, but on contemporary young adult fantasies as a whole. Nevertheless, I pressed on, only to find that my guesses about the direction the plot was headed mostly played out as I expected. (There's also a subtle sexist vibe here, despite Scathach, with Josh doing all the driving and being the brawn rather than the brains, and Sophie needing special protection, not to mention Flamel's immortal wife Perenelle being captured early on and remaining largely helpless through the book.) I finished with a sense of exhaustion rather than anticipation over future installments; that burnt-out feeling, brought on by the writing style and obtuseness of certain characters, is what dropped this one a half-star below a flat Okay rating. Some elements were imaginative, but the whole just became too numbing, trying to throw too much at the reader too fast (often with little reward, as a good deal simply got overwhelmed in the general rush), then repeating itself for good measure.

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