I’ve gone to L.A. several times, but not San Francisco, yet. Listed in my tall order of fascinating places to visit, the home of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Fisherman’s Wharf, and streets that brim with art culture and quaint and quirky stores enthralls me as much as stories that take place there. Incidentally, Michael Scott has convincingly crafted such setting in the fantastically fast-paced and fascinating tale, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: The Alchemyst, and its sequel, The Magician, which takes place in another sure stop I’ve also yet to take.
Now, I’ve read countless books, 99% of which I haven’t written reviews for—from Matthew Arnold's Essays in Criticism to Emily and Poe’s anthologies, to Jonathan Strange, Wicked, and The Undomesticated Goddess; to Narnia, Magyk, The Lightning Thief, Charlie Bone, Harry Potter, and much more in between, such as the writings of Beatrix Potter, Tim Burton, William Steig, Mo Willems, Avi, and myriad other brilliant authors. A common line often used in book reviews, I’ve noticed, is “this is the next thing to…or if you like so and so, you’d dig this and that…” But that’s just too easy. I don’t want to apply those clichés except maybe in classifying genres. In this case—this story involving modern-day American twins, a 14th century French alchemist, the immortal Nicholas Flamel, and his wife, the sorceress Perenelle, and a host of other intriguing mythical and historical figures enmeshed in a familiar theme that is the battle between good and evil—I refuse to report that this is the next thing to read if you’ve gone through a withdrawal period from Harry Potter or just because you’re into Twilight.
The Alchemyst is truly engaging, period—Harry Potter or not. Michael Scott surely captivates with engrossing details, magic, and adventures that unexpectedly transpire for two fairly ordinary teens, Sophie and Josh, a part-time coffee shop attendant and a book store clerk. The story begins with Sophie in the middle of a typical tête-à-tête on her cell phone at the cafe and Josh filing books across the street, in a bookshop owned by Nick Fleming, who is really Nicholas Flamel in disguise, when mayhem suddenly strikes with the stink of “rotten eggs”, emitted by the wicked, English magician, Dr. John Dee, who manages to steal an ancient text, the codex of Abraham the Mage, from Nick’s guardianship, but only after Josh has fortuitously snatched its two most significant pages. Next, the teens are swept along a mad flight with the French magicians and a vampire ally named Scathach. Nicholas must retrieve the magical book to protect the twins, whose destiny intertwines with the fate of the entire world, and stop Dee from summoning the evil gods of the Elder race, the dark elders who’ll either enslave or destroy humanity and ultimately rule the world. Nicholas must also recover the codex to prevent Dee, whose immortality had only been granted by a dark elder in return for total servitude, from acquiring the secrets of the elixir of life hidden in the book. The alchemist and his wife, themselves, need the ever-changing spell for immortality, for without it, they age and weaken about a year’s worth each day.
Brewed with enchanting humor, horror, as well as depth and smart references—from Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, and Beowulf to The Simpsons, Shrek, and Superman, brace yourself with The Alchemyst’ magic and follow Nicholas and his allies in their pursuit across magical realms, amidst very curious and dangerous creatures, like Hekate, the Crow Goddess, and the Witch of Endor, to form new alliances and get the twins’ magical aura awakened.
The riveting adventure continues in Paris, in the spellbinding sequel, The Magician, wherein fiends, like the Italian immortal, Machiavelli, the beast, Niddhog, and the war god, Mars, among others, wreak havoc and formidable new allies continually beguile. You’d never dare imagine the Eiffel tower in the same light as Joan of Arc’s husband, Saint-Germain, has. As the alchemist aptly puts, [Humans use but a tiny percentage of their senses. They barely look, rarely listen, never smell, think that they can only experience feelings through their skin. But talk—oh, do they talk, which makes up for the lack of use of their other senses]. But whereas “Desperate men do stupid things,” says Saint-Germain in referring to Machiavelli and Dee, who, like the dark elders, only see “the humani”, or humans, as “a bunch of people”, “slaves”, or “food”, “Stupid men make mistakes," replies Nicholas, who see “individuals, with worries and cares, with family and loved ones, with friends and colleagues”. The alchemist clearly sees “people”; I wish politicians had the same view. But for now, we have a truly enchanting tale to follow—from the Warrior Maiden's dojo, to Hekate's Shadow Realm, where the Yggrasil thrives, to Ojai, where Sophie learns the Magic of Air, to Alcatraz, where Perenelle teams up with Juan Manuel de Ayala's ghost and Areop-Enap against the sphinx, and the Morrigan, to Rue du Montmorency, where Nicholas and Perenelle once lived, and to the catacombs of Paris, where the sleeping God lies awake. I can hardly wait for the third sequel, The Sorceress, and set off for London, where the magic continues.