Meg’s Review: The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
by Michael Scott
Audiobook read by Denis O’Hare
I am a sucker for three things: ancient-mythology-in-modern-times, perfectly-paced prose, and pink-colored alcoholic drinks. The first weakness saw me buy The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. The lack of the second drove me to the third.
In The Alchemyst, 700-year-old Nicholas Flamel is alive and well after discovering the secret to immortality in a book called “The Codex”. He and his wife, Perenelle, are camped out in San Francisco running a bookstore (because I guess what else would you do if you were immortal and could turn anything into gold?). Enter the villain, John Dee, who is after the secrets contained in “The Codex” — which, incidentally, are key to returning the Dark Elders (think evil gods) back to power. And in the middle of it are twin teenagers Sophie and Josh, who, by the way, turn out to be the subject of a prophecy that may or may not end the world.
I realized early on that my main problem was that I simply wasn’t connecting with the protagonists. Did that mean that I had finally hit an age where I could no longer truly commit to a young adult novel? Are fifteen-year-old minds just too different for my decrepit-self? How to check the theory? I thought about how I felt about the plight of other YA protagonists: Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and Katniss Everdeen. Then I decided that Sofie and Josh were just kinda dumb and annoying, and that’s why I didn’t like the book.
Time for some of the good and bad:
- Bad: I think it’s officially time to proclaim prophecy in YA fiction to be an overused trope. After Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, to list just the recent bestsellers, it’s time to move on.
- Good: There’s an extensive draw from mythology and history. Though the book has gods from Greek, Irish, and Egyptian legend were all running around in the same world, Scott creates a universe in which all such creatures should exist in tandem. It is quite nice to see interactions across mythological lines.
- Bad: The tone is all off for me. General rule of YA: your target audience is the age of your protagonist. Sofie and Josh are fifteen, but the prose reads like it’s aimed far a younger 10-12 range, reminiscent of Angie Sage’s Magyk series. Would I recommend this for 10-12 year olds? Maybe. If they don’t get bored easy.
- Good: The narrator of the book, Denis O’Hare, has a really lovely voice. His female voices were kind of silly, but he does a wonderful job with accents.
- Bad: Pacing. Dear lord. The majority of the dialogue in the front half of the book is truly unnecessary. They always seem to be discussing the same thing. I swear, if I had to read some iteration of the words “Your lives will never be the same again” one more time…
- Good: Uuuuuuuummm…?
In the final chapters, when the inevitable epic final battle happens (which was pretty short for an epic final battle), I did find myself somewhat invested. It wasn’t until I was done that I realized it was also the only time in the book where something was really at risk. Josh had been tempted away by the bad guy, and I thought that maybe he was going to split from his twin, fall to the Dark Side and go all Vader on us.
Five minutes later I was yelling, “LAME!” at the book. The chance to go dark and meaningful was washed away by an ubersweet moment that was infinitely disappointing. The book had a chance. It ignored it. People in Panera were staring.
As I write this, Audible sends me an email: “Pssst! Amy, Find Out More Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.”
My gut reaction: First, my name isn’t Amy, but thanks for trying to be personal. Second, no, the first book sucked.
But then I read the premise. The bad guy of the sequel of this sickly-sweet-nothing-is-ever-really-at-risk book is just too good to pass up. What will happen when Sofie, Josh and the gang face up against…
You’ve got me wanting to read your second book even though I didn’t like the first.
Touché, writer. Touché.