recommendations and reviews for the aspiring reader

recommendations and reviews for the aspiring reader

Review: The Alchemyst – The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

The Alchemyst – The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

by Michael Scott

” I am legend.

Death has no claim over me, illness cannot touch me. Look at me now and it would be hard to put an age upon me, and yet I was born in the Year of Our Lord 130, more than six hundred and seventy years ago. 

I have been many things in my time: a physician and a cook, a bookseller and a soldier, a teacher of languages and chemistry, both an officer of the law and  a thief. 

But before all of these I was an alchemyst. I was the Alchemyst. 

I was acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of all, sought after by kings and princes, by emperors and even the Pope himself. I could turn ordinary metal into gold, I could change common stones into precious jewels. More than this: I discovered the secret Life Eternal hidden deep in a book of ancient magic. 

Now my wife, Perenelle, has been kidnapped and the book stolen. “

I often wonder about the real-life heroes.

The ones that authors pluck from history as any random climbing rose in an English garden or a dandelion swaying in the wind of an open meadow. Many authors will find their inspiration hiding in an old history text, choosing to build their epic romances, arduous tales of war, or their harrowing adventures around real-life figures.

One such figure that creeps into a lot of modern day writing is the elusive and mysterious Nicholas Flamel. Readers have followed his legacy through Harry Potter’s quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone, they have heard him described as a supposed Grand Master of the Priory of Scion while on a journey with Robert Langdon as he sought out the Holy Grail, and even the famed Indiana Jones has spent time searching for Flamel’s ancient text that is said to describe the process of how to alchemically produce the elixir of everlasting life.

History says that Nicholas Flamel stumbled upon a puzzling and peculiar book while traveling as a scribe and bookseller sometime in the 1300’s. Flamel was assumed to already be a student of the sorcerous art of alchemy, the medieval forerunner to what we now accept as modern day chemistry, and his interests pushed he and his wife Perenelle to read every book on the subject that they could get their hands on, often traveling to distant lands in search of translators and often meeting up with curious characters much like those that they are paired up with in later literature for entertainment value.

Shortly after coming into possession of The Book of Abramelin, a veritable grimoire that is said to hold the secrets for turning ordinary metal into gold, Flamel departed the city. When Nicholas and his wife returned from a sabbatical that took nearly twenty years, their wealth was immeasurable. Rumors over their considerable and somewhat overnight wealth swirled the city despite his best efforts to lead a quiet and unassuming life,  and the Flamel’s took care to donate much of their wealth to charity: sponsoring hospitals, churches, and orphanages around the Paris area where they took up residence in a stone house that still stands to this day.

After the couple died, their home was torn apart as scavengers searched for the secrets of their wealth, but nothing was ever found. Their tomb was eventually invaded by the same type of predators in the hopes of recovering something of substance, but to the criminal’s surprise, the graves were empty – spurring the legend of the immortal Flamels and further instigating the fire that surrounded their mysterious alchemical connections. As the days after their deaths turned into years and decades, reported sightings of the Flamels continued to emerge and to be recorded, leaving one to wonder – were they actually immortal? Does the Philosopher’s Stone actually exist?

The Alchemyst is a mid-grade level book written by Irish author Michael Scott. While he has written other series for the same age group, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series is definitely his shining star.

The story is set around a colorful collection of characters:

  • Nicholas and his wife Perenelle, who are former historical alchemists now living in modern-day California as booksellers.
  • Sophie and Josh Newman are a pair of teenaged twins; Josh works for Nicholas in the bookshop and Sophie works across the street at a coffee bar.
  • Dr. John Dee, a curious historical figure best known as his role in Elizabeth I’s life as her chief doctor, trusted personal advisor and astrologer, is our clear villain.
  • Mythological creatures Scathach (a Celtic warrior), Hekate (a three-faced goddess of Greek lore who is known for her protectiveness of family), Bastet (the Egyptian goddess of warfare), the Morrigan (an Irish symbol of fate), and The Witch of Endor (the Biblical mistress of the air) all make an appearance – but while it may seem that some figures are on the right side of peace and others are on the wrong side of evil, readers are encouraged to not trust anyone.

Nicholas is alarmed to become involved in a magical shootout when Dr. John Dee and his nefarious cohorts pop into the bookshop, searching for the elusive Book of Abraham the Mage, a book that Dee has been searching for over the centuries. Flamel has been able to outsmart and outrun his previous pupil in the world of alchemy so far, but it seems that the run is over. Or is it? Flamel is able to sneak his way out of the shop with his employee Josh, a terrified teenager, at his side and after learning that his wife Perenelle has been subsequently kidnapped by Dee, Flamel grabs Josh’s twin sister Sophie and they set out on the road searching for sanctuary.

Flamel is pained to be separated from his precious wife and he is inflamed to realize that Dee was able to procure the book from him. If Nicholas and Perenelle do not create and ingest the alchemical formula for immortality once a month, they will begin to age at an alarming rate – one year per day they do not have their elixir. His attempt at flight brings them to a hidden dojo where they end up bringing an ancient goddess of war into the fray with them – Scathach, better known as Scatty. While the red-haired warrior may look like a teenager herself, she is actually one in a line of Elders, albeit of the Next Generation, meaning she is not as old and powerful as some of the creatures out there. She agrees to help guide the twins and Flamel to the refuge of Hekate, where they hope to regroup and regain their strength before formulating a plan.

” At the mention of the word twins, Scatty looked up from her packing. “They’re the real reason you’re here, aren’t they?”

Flamel suddenly found something very interesting to stare at on the wall. 

Scatty strode across the small room, glanced out into the hall to make sure Sophie and Josh were still in the kitchen, and then pulled Flamel into the room and pushed the door closed. 

“You’re up to something, aren’t you?” she demanded. “This is about more than just the loss of the Codex. You could have taken Dee and his minions on your own.”

“Don’t be so sure. It’s been a long time since I fought, Scathach,” Flamel said gently. “The only alchemy I do now is to brew a little of the philosopher’s stone potion to keep Perenelle and myself young. Occasionally, I’ll make a little gold or the odd jewel when we need some money.”

Scatty coughed a short humorless laugh, and spun back to her packing. She had changed into a pair of black combat pants, steel-toed Magnum boots and a black T-shirt, over which she wore a black vest covered in pockets and zippers. She pushed a second pair of trousers into her backpack, found one sock and went looking for its match under her bed. 

“Nicholas Flamel,” she said, her voice muffled by the blankets, “you are the most powerful alchemyst in the known world. Remember, I stood beside you when we fought the demon Fomor, and you were the one who rescued me from the dungeons of An Chaor-Thanach and not the other way around. ” She came out from under the bed with the missing sock. “When the Rusalka were terrorizing St. Petersburg, you alone turned them back, and when Black Annis raged across Manitoba, I watched you defeat her. You alone faced down the Night Hag and her Undead army. You’ve spent more than half a millennium reading and studying the Codex, no one is more familiar with the stories and legends it holds –” 

Scatty stopped suddenly and gasped, green eyes widening. “That’s what this is about,” she said. “This is to do with the legend. . . “

Flamel reached out and pressed his forefinger to Scatty’s lips, preventing her from saying another word. His smile was enigmatic.

“Do you trust me?” he asked her eventually. “

But Dr. John Dee and his impatient clients, the Morrigan and Bastet, have a different idea. While Dee was able to snatch the book off of Flamel before he fled, he is furious to learn that several of the pages have been snatched out – in fact, they are the single most important pages of the entire book. Dee and his clients devise a plan to attack the Flamel group in Hekate’s haven, which will result in the deaths of things that have been alive since the beginning of time.

While visiting the enigmatic and curious Hekate, Flamel has begun to formulate some suspicions. The twins, Sophie and Josh, seem to have more to them than meets the eye. The Book of Abraham speaks of a set of magical twins and predicts that they will either save the world or end it, and Flamel has to wonder. . . are these the ones of which the foretelling told? Hekate is able to see their auras which burn a bright gold and silver, confirming what Flamel is equal parts afraid of and excited about. The twins become even more precious commodities now, and it is his mission to Awaken their powers and to keep them safe until their paths become clear.

When Dee, Bastet, the Morrigan, and a slew of their demented creatures descend onto Hekate’s home, war breaks out. And although one twin has been Awakened, the other has not, and contempt and jealousy begin to take root as the group escapes and begins another journey.

” Hekate fell silent, watching the twins punch and kick next to Scathach.

“Silver and gold. The rarest of all auras,” she muttered, and for a single heartbeat, the auras bloomed around the twins. “If I do this and it kills them, will you be able to live with it on your conscience?”

“I am old now, so old,” Nicholas said very softly. “Do you know how many friends I’ve buried over the centuries?”

“And did you feel their loss?” There was a note of genuine curiosity in Hekate’s voice.

“Every one.”

“Do you still?”

“Yes. Every day.” 

The goddess reached out and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Then you are still human, Nicholas Flamel. The day you stop caring is the day you become like Dee and his kind.” “

The Alchemyst is a book that can be enjoyed by all ages, but is truly geared toward both male and female readers between the ages of 10 and 15. Readers who enjoyed the Harry Potter series and the Percy Jackson books will enjoy this series of 6, becoming enthralled by a magical world within a world, and following along with likable characters through their tribulations.

While I found the beginning of the book started off with a splash of adventure and fast-paced excitement, the middle portion stalled a little. I think it was to produce some character development since the beginning missed a lot of that due to the exploits, and I am hoping that as the book ended much as it began, that the rest of the books in the series will remain as thrilling.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, knocking off points for the stall in the middle and for the onslaught of mythological creatures that got a little convoluted at times. I didn’t feel the descriptions were clear enough for the targeted age group, but that is not to say that it will not be enjoyed. Readers may want to have their computer or iPad at the ready to look up the creatures to formulate an accurate description in their mind.

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