Friday, 21 October 2011

The Alchemyst

Sometimes it's good to get taken out of your comfort zone. And Irish fantasy is definitely out of my comfort zone. For some reason my 10 year old was captivated with the covers of this series of books, yes kids do judge books by their covers, just like we do. Recently it came the time to start on the first of the series for out bedtime reading. I was dreading it somewhat, although a friend at work had gushed over the series late last year, and she'd read them for herself, not to her kids. If she enjoyed them, perhaps I would be proved wrong? Thankfully I was.

What do we get? Immediate action from the very first page! Fifteen year old twins Sophie and Josh are spending the summer working in shops very near each other in San Francisco. Sophie in a coffee shop, and Josh in the book shop directly across the road. Doesn't sound like the setting for too much excitement, but within pages we are drawn into another world completely. A world where the legendary figures of mythology are real, and still living.

It must be said that my knowledge of mythology isn't that vast. So names like Yggdrasil, Bastet and Scathach don't mean that much to me, and making reading aloud rather cumbersome at times as I stumble across these unfamiliar sounds. But fear not, you don't actually need to undertake an online degree in Norse or Celtic mythology to enjoy the book. Indeed it was only after we finished reading this book, that I wondered if indeed these were indeed real mythologic identities. Michael Scott dips into most of the major world myths and legends at times, to weave an intricate, yet believable fantasy (I know) adventure. But really, once you've suspended one lot of disbelief then whole lot may as well go, no?

It's a classic good vs evil tale. The good here being headed by Nicholas Flamel, and the bad by Dr John Dee. Nicholas Flamel was a real person who lived in Paris in the 14th century. He was a scrivener and an alchemyst. Apparently he figures in the first of the Harry Potter books, but I've only read that once, in 1999, and can't remember. For some reason after he died his grave was opened and found to be empty, thus it was rumoured that he was immortal. There is a Rue Nicholas Flamel and an Auberge Nicholas Flamel in Paris. I know that the young fantasy fan will be keen to see these on our next trip to Paris (there is always one in the planning stages).

Picture credit

The evil is headed up by Dr John Dee, who again was a real person, living in 16th century England, and an advisor to Elizabeth I. Michael Scott describe him as "one of the most brilliant men of his time" in the Author's Note at the back of the book. Here he is working at the behest of the Dark Elders, and has a stench of sulphur when performing his acts of magic. There is an incredible array of monsters that must be battled in their various forms. It's great fun.

Quite incredibly all the action of this book takes place over a mere two days, starting in San Francisco, and moving to various places in California. It's all tied up a bit neatly in the end, but I think we can forgive him that at this stage. I'm quite keen to move on to the second book in the series, The Magician. I'm not sure if the enthusiasm will last for all six books (I'm not all that good with really long series), but hopefully we can get through the first five and be ready to await the final instalment, The Enchantress, sometime in the middle of 2012.

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