Book Review: “The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

I got this book because I vaguely remembered putting it in the donate pile last time I went home although I hadn’t gotten around to reading it at that point. I was curious whether I’d regret letting it go or not so when I found it at an Aladdin I figured I’d give it another try.

The Alchemyst is a part of a series by Michael Scott where real historical events and real people are interwoven with mythology and this idea that comes up in some of my other favorite stories like “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman and practically every book by Rick Riordan that the gods of mythology are in fact real and still around. Michael Scott’s take on it though is that everything exists but came into existence in different waves. The gods are all the same, Egyptian, Greek (the two main ones used in the first book) they just go by different names in different cultures. But then in the iron age they began to fade due to an aversion to iron and a next generation of elder beings (very Lovecraftian) began and then faded. One of these beings created a book that foretold the future and was full of all the Old ones secrets, which a Frenchman picked up and with the help of his wife and a whole lot of travel managed to decipher into an immortality potion. But there are bad people working for darker older ones who wish to rule the world and make mankind slaves and they are after the book.

The book follows a set of twins, Josh and Sophie Newman who are technologically addicted as they stumble into this long game of cat and mouse and have to leave everything behind. They follow Nicholas Flamel from ancient being to ancient being while sneaking off to double check that everything he says is actually true or historical accurate, if he does actually tell them anything. A lot of what he does tell them is the big events of history that either he had a role in or name drop people who were his apprentices at one point or another. Which gets annoying fast.

The book feels like a rushed info dump in preparation for the rest of the series. The point of view jumps around a lot. While the book is subtitled The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel it seems to be a book about the twins Josh and Sophie, but it will bounce from their point of view to Nicholas’s to his kidnapped wife’s, Perenelle’s, to the villainous Dee’s. For me, it’s too many character to jump between.

The kids are suppose to be ordinary. Here’s how Josh is described in that close third person point of view.

“He was a normal high school sophomore, not too brilliant, but not stupid either. He played football, sang— badly— in his friend’s band, had a few girls he was interested in, but no real girlfriend yet. He played the occasional computer game, preferred first-person shooters like (…) Josh was ordinary.”

Despite him downplaying his own intelligence he is nearly constantly trying to fact check Nicholas and the other beings around him. Rather than trusting people or believing anything they say he’ll disappear with his computer and try and find sources for him. It’s very jarring and such a weird choice to have a character question literally everything they’re told and then disappear only to come back and be like yup I looked it up they’re telling the truth. It’s annoying. It felt like the author was trying to say these people actually existed, Google it. Which he does in the notes in the back of the book.

I don’t know if the idea is that Josh is supposed to be a complex hormonal teenager because he tends to be the one to get jealous and upset and despite loving his job working in the bookstore working for Nicholas Flamel and thinking of him life family he can’t seem to trust the man at all. No matter how many times anyone vouches for him or Nicholas helps out or what Josh looks up online he refuses to trust him.

And like most teen/kid stories there’s always the glaring question of how on earth do they manage to run away and have an adventure without any of their family freaking out? Their parents are archaeologists which they repeat anytime anyone explains something for the readers sake or if the kids know something that surprises the elder gods around them they say something like “Our parents are archaeologists, remember?” (Yes, I remembered it after the first time you mentioned it, after the 10th time it got old) So while their parents are self absorbed in their dig in Utah they’re staying with their over 80 year old Aunt Agnes who it seems is very easily concerned and worries a lot.

“We can’t just disappear. She’ll be expecting us home for dinner,” Sophie said. “If we’re even five minutes late, she gets in a tizzy. Last week, when the trolley car broke down and we were an hour late, she’d already phoned our parents by the time we got there.”

And yet after a flimsy excuse of a gas leak and going with Josh’s boss to check on his wife they manage to check in one more time but not again. There’s no mention of how this aunt responds or why she’s okay with them running off with a man she doesn’t know and skipping school for such a long period of time.

Nicholas Flamel also doesn’t always explain things well. He info dumps a lot, but he leaves key things out which tends to lead Josh especially into not trusting him. Like he takes the twins to visit the goddess Hekate but doesn’t explain much about her.

“Hekate is cursed to age with the day, maiden in the evening, matron in the afternoon, crone in the evening. She is incredibly sensitive about her age.”

Generally if you’re taking someone to visit someone they don’t know you tell them things like that before you meet them. Like hey, Bobby has a five cats, he’s super fond of them but they tend to like to sneak under foot and under the chairs so check before you sit down anywhere. Like yeah the cliche is then people are aware of the problem and then inevitably trip up but then they realize they’ve made the mistake. In this case no one warned the twins so of course they ran face forward into trouble.

There are also a lot of out bursts that I just don’t understand. Like in this conversation.

“You could have been killed,” Flamel said very softly without turning around. “Or worse.”

“You can’t keep us here,” Josh said quickly, his voice sounding too loud in the silence. “We’re not your prisoners.”

These sort of out bursts tend to happen often and without provocation. They know they can’t go home without bringing terrible things along with them that could potentially harm their parents or their new lives in San Francisco. Yet despite that Josh fights Flamel at every possible turn.

Essentially I felt the entire book frustrating to read. I found the main twin characters annoying and almost every other opportunity they were doing something incredibly stupid. I couldn’t understand why Flamel who has been making a immortality potion for several centuries every month couldn’t remember how to do it without the book. I didn’t enjoy how rushed everything felt or the constant info dumping, or name dropping. It felt like the entire book could’ve been summarized and put at the beginning of one of the later books. It was essentially like a very long prologue that just ended suddenly before much really happened.

I liked the idea, the premise and that there are all sorts of different types of magic the twins will have to eventually learn, and I found it interesting that the author chose to use real people from history as his immortals magical “humani” however between the characters being annoying, info dumping and the general rushed feeling I got I couldn’t enjoy it.

Have you ever been disappointed by a book you were looking forward to? What was the book?

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