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Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

alchemyst michael scott Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

Its a simple fact of young adult literature that if you want to get things moving right off of the bat, you need a prophecy. Better yet, an ambiguous prophecy. Better still? An ambiguous prophecy that applies to twins. Series such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and myriad others have rested firmly on the narrative possibilities opened by a prophecy, and Michael Scotts The Alchemyst happily walks these well-trodden pathways with portents, sybils, and oracles galore. One of the great things, after all, about a prophecy is that it has the fabulous ability to suddenly turn a nondescript everyman character into a kung-fu-fighting, sabre-wielding, me-against-the-world hero. Prophecies force the character in question to suddenly make a 180 degree turn, and ensure that they cant simply opt out of the narrative. After all, if Harry had said something along the lines of 'Voldemort? Cant the police deal with him instead? the famous series might not have been quite so thrilling.

Sophie and Josh Newman are your everyday fifteen-year-olds. Theyre welded to their iPods, suffer through tiresome part time jobs in order to save up for clothes, cars, and other goodies and, well, actually, thats pretty much it. But all of thats about to change. When a creepy, bearded (no, not Rasputin) decides to visit the bookshop in which Josh works, Josh finds that hes in for something a little more challenging than trying to find a book based only on a description of its cover. The man, John Deeyes, that much-maligned John Deeit turns out, is indeed after a book, but one thats not your usual trashy thriller. Rather, hes after The Codex (note capitalisation), an ancient volume full of all sorts of magical boons, including a spell for immortality. Problem is, Joshs boss (who turns out to be that reasonably well-known alchemist chap Nicholas Flamel) doesnt particularly want to give up this book. Magical shenanigans and plenty of butt-kicking ensues, and Josh and his sister Sophie, along with Nick and a martial artist vampire named Scathach or, affectionately, Scatty, are on the run. Eventually finding asylum in Yggdrasil, the famed World Tree of Norse mythology (as you do), the bewildered teens are told of the role that they are to play in saving the world. Or perhaps destroying it.

My thoughts

Superficially'The Alchemyst reminds me of the fabulous Percy Jackson series (see our reviews), perhaps because its narrative draws very similarly on the approach of Main character walks into a room. AND THEN THERE WERE MONSTERS! But while the action in Riordans work is famously non-stop, The Alchemyst seems to suffer from pacing exhaustion mid-way through, resulting in a few chapters that seem to consist of little more than narrative panting. Moreover, it lacks the neat self-contained arc of each of the Percy books, ending as it does with not so much a cliffhanger as just a general sense of incompleteness. It may'start out Meatloaf-like (ie, like a bat out of Hell), but then sits back on its haunches for a bit while it gets into the nitty gritty of each adult characters history. And given that were dealing with immortals here, this takes a bit of time, resulting in plenty of the book taking place in the form of flashbacks or of soliloquy. The result is a read that can feel somewhat unfocused, particularly given that a YA should ostensibly focus on the teen characters rather than the adult ones.

In fact, while we get to hear all about the histories of each of the major adult characters, all of whom are famous beings from various world mythologiesHecate, The Morrigan, the Bastet cat, and plenty of others make an appearancewe learn very little about our supposed protagonists, Josh and Sophie. One has the sneaking suspicion, in fact, that theres very little about them to learn. Indeed, Joshs main concern when being hunted down by various supernatural forces is for his iPod, while Sophie seems to rejoice in taking every available opportunity for witty banter. (Words may be cutting, but theyre not exactly the best weapon against the forces of darkness.) Scott attempts to work in their ambivalence about whole prophecy thing, but rather than adding a sense of believability or depth of characterisation to the novel, this simply serves to slow things down, and were treated to several slow chapters wherein the twins try to work out where Nicks loyalties lie or go about looking for hidden cameras just in case theyre unwitting guest stars on'Punkd. Things further slow down when we switch over to the viewpoints of Nicks wife, Perry, who spends most of the book chained up in a cellyep, fascinating reading, thator those of John Dee, who prefers to spend his days indulging in flights of fancy.

Another issue that I struggled with is the writing level in this one. Our characters are almost sixteen, but the novel itself feels written for the MG crowd rather than the YA one, and I found myself constantly thinking of Josh and Sophie as much younger than they actually are. (Indeed, every time Josh started up his car, I wondered whether hed need a booster seat in order to see over the dashboard.) A little bit of humour wouldnt have gone astray, either.

On the plus side, The Alchemyst is wonderfully creative, pulling in all sorts of critters and creatures from mythology, and young readers will have a field day picking out the various allusions and references. Scott is a dab hand at world building, and he creates an interesting wider mythology upon which all of this rests that makes for some fascinating reading. Moreover, as a plus, the ecology of magic use is well thought-out and interesting. But theres something about his world that, like the characterisation, just feels a little superficial. Throughout the book, various nasties blow stuff up, destroy stuff, and generally cause all manner of mischief, but no one in the real world ever seems to be affected by any of it. In addition, the fact that the twins family members (which I have to note include a pair of obligatorily absent archaeologist parents) are so remote that they might as well not exist at all, makes the twins efforts seem sort of futile. What are they fighting for, if neither the world, nor their loved ones at the very least, seem to be affected by any of this?


The Alchemyst is an intriguing start to a new series, and while it suffers a little from some pacing issues and a lack of focus, it has plenty of good things to its name: strong female characters, all sorts of mythical creatures and legendary tales, and monsters galore. I wouldnt shout its name from the rooftops, but Ill certainly be giving the next in the series a go.

Rating: star Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scottstar Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scottstar Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scottblankstar Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scottblankstar Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scott (good)

Purchase The Alchemyst from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

With thanks to Simple Schooling for the review copy

See our other Michael Scott reviews

Other books by Michael Scott:

magician michael scott Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scottsorceress michael scott Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scottnecromancer michael scott Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scottwarlock michael scott Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scott


  1. I keep trying to listen to this one on audio. I think its the reader whos putting me off, though, and not the book itself. This sounds like a fun, quick series that Ill probably get to somedaythough most likely not on audio!

  2. Stephanie /

    Thanks for visiting, Erin! The book has a lot of backstory and asides worked in, and Im not sure how well it would work in audio format. Ive just moved into audio books, and having giggled my way through an American trying and failing to do an Aussie accent, I feel your pain :)

  3. I agree that the first book in the series was pretty good (although not fantastic), but I found that Scotts writing got much better as the books went on. I think if you stick with them, the story gets more interesting and the characters begin to grow on you. Id recommend continuing with the series. Id love to hear your thoughts on the other books.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Pica. :) I have the next two already, so Ill definitely be working through those. Its a great concept, and Im interested to see where Scott takes it.

  4. I have trouble keeping this series on the shelves at school. Somehow the next book is always out when a student wants it. :-) and yes, they read Rick Riordan too. Not just Percy Jackson. We have a student whos madly into alchemy and its history,had a hard time finding him a
    non-fic book on it. Only found one. He did love the Scott novels.

  5. Stephanie /

    Ive read the fourth one in this series now, and its definitely improving. :) I think theyre best read one after another, though, given how quickly things happen.

    Yesterday I happened across a series called Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus that looks like it might be a good one for a high school library. Do you have that on the shelves?