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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Hey all!  It's going to be a busy week here - half term in Tourist Central, eeek! - so I'm having a bit of an informal YA Fortnight to cover me from now right through to my next day off a week on Tuesday.  I figure some good young adult novels will be exciting enough to carry me away from the claustrophobic heave of customers in the shop, accessible enough to be good for reading on busy days, and just an all-round perfect option for a generally mad break when the world goes bonkers for their last holiday before Christmas!  So, here's my first book of the fortnight - and it was a cracker!

REVIEW: THE ALCHEMYST (4.5*)

by Michael Scott (Corgi, 2010)

I think I've found my new Harry Potter!  If the rest of Scott's Nicholas Flamel series turns out to be as good as this, I will be a very happy reader... It opens with Sophie and Josh, fifteen year-old twins living and working in San Francisco, being inadvertently caught up in a magical battle between a dapper stranger and Josh's usually laid-back boss, bookseller Nick Fleming. Nick's wife Perry is snatched away by the sinister man's unnatural henchmen, along with a mysterious book, and though they can hardly believe their eyes, the twins stand their ground to help their friend escape.

Fleeing the scene, Nick reveals his true identity to the twins. He is Nicholas Flamel, the famous alchemist, and he and his wife Perenelle are immortal thanks to the knowledge contained in the Book of Abraham the Mage, also known as the Codex. The evil man is John Dee, who has been searching for the book for hundreds of years. As well as the secrets of alchemy and immortal life, the book contains hundreds of other prophecies and spells, which Dee intends to use to bring back the Dark Elders, a fearful race of god-like beings exiled from the world centuries ago. The only hope for humanity - and Perenelle - is a pair of twins who appear in the book's prophecies, representing Sun and Moon, gold and silver. Sophie and Josh's lives are about to change forever...

It's really quite a complex story, and I loved it! The action never lets up for a moment, and as the novel goes on the reader is introduced to more and more characters, and more and more magical lore. Scatty, an ancient warrior who looks (and behaves!) like a feisty teenage girl, joins the group and becomes one of the main characters. Some of the Elders are introduced, including Hekate, an immensely powerful woman who lives in a giant tree and ages from a young girl to an old lady each day, and the Morrigan, also known as the Crow Goddess. All kinds of mythical heroes and creatures are woven into this new world, creating an entire alternate history of the Earth rich in philosophy and steeped in magic.

As I mentioned earlier, reading The Alchemyst reminded me very much of my first reading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. After the initial chapter, where I wondered what on earth was going on, I was completely swept away. Like Harry Potter, a huge part of the book's draw comes from the revelation of the wonders of an entirely new magical world existing alongside our own, surprising the human protagonists and the reader alike. The plot is exciting and fast-paced, bringing new allies, adversaries and experiences at every turn.

I can't wait to get started on the next book in the series, The Magician - and I highly recommend this to any of the post-Potter generation who fancy adding a little magic back into their lives!

Note: Many thanks to Random House Children's Books, who sent this book for review.

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