Books

Book 442: The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #1) – Michael Scott

Scott, Michael - The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #1)I first read this in the first six months of this blog! Unfortunately, I didn’t actually respond to every book so I only have my thoughts to The Warlock (#5) from that original read (and later The Enchantress (#6) when it was released in 2012). I picked up hard copies of these books back in October 2012 when I left a job and they gave me a bookstore gift card.

The series has languished on my shelf for the last four years, partly because I’d read it before, but mostly because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it again. When I bought it, I definitely did, but then every time I went to re-read it I remembered what happened in the last book and the revelations in the last two books and questioned if I wanted to re-read the series.

On my recent trip to China I was able to check out digital copies of the books so I re-read all six over a period of two weeks. I also moved them forward because I got my friend Caroline copies of them in German for her birthday and I want to be able to answer her questions!

This six-book series follows the lives of Sophie and Josh Newman over a week (maybe a little more or less) and what a period it is. Each book is at most three days long and just in this one book:

“In just over twenty-four hours, his life—and his sister’s life too—had changed utterly and incomprehensibly. What he had once believed to be merely stories now turned out to be versions of the truth. Myth had become history, legends had become facts.” (Loc. 4195)

And we’re not talking one or two myths, we’re talking all the myths of all the cultures in the world existing. Imagine Percy Jackson et al, but with immortal human beings like Machiavelli, Virginia Dare and Billy the Kid (to name a few throughout the series), who are also alive and causing mischief.

I think one of the things that I thoroughly enjoyed about this series the first time I read it and this most recent time, was the basis in “fact” and in cultural history. The characters throughout the book, even the idea of alchemy,

“Alchemy is a peculiar combination of chemistry, botany, medicine, astronomy and astrology.” (Loc. 4615)

are all based on written texts throughout the ages. And yet, with all of this and the unreality of immortals living (the titular Nicholas Flamel and his wife Perenelle are nearing 700-years old) as long as they do, there’s a certain amount of lackadaisical belief in the world and time in general:

“If my travels have taught me anything, it is that we create our own future. I’ve watched world-shaking events come and go without anyone making predictions about them, and I’ve also seen prophecies—usually to do with the end of the world—that also failed to happen.” (Loc. 3444)

This was one of the interesting things to keep in mind as I moved through the series a second time. It definitely showed Scott’s talents as a writer in that there were multiple threads he wove together. His ability to tighten the threads and take away the independence and perceived-flexibility throughout the series was incredible.

The last thought I want to record for posterity and that I know I will think about for a while to come is how this differs from Harry Potter. Why is it I am able to re-read HP year after year, knowing the outcomes (good and bad) and yet this series I doubt I’ll revisit again and it was a little bit of a struggle this second time (not to read, but to read and not be jaded about). Is it the pop culture phenomenon of HP? Is it the writing quality? What is it? Hopefully, I’ll figure it out by time I’m done writing about all six books.

Recommendation: If you’re reading them for the first time I’m sure you will LOVE them! The myths and legends Scott brings to life throughout the series are so well crafted and have such great personalities they stay with you. The only downside of the series, and this is coming from a re-read perspective, is that it’s hard to ignore what you know at the end. It was really hard not to let what I know about the end of the series affect my re-read of the series. For a lot of the time I was able to ignore it, but it was always there.

Opening Line: “I am legend.”

Closing Line: “Perenelle’s smile was terrifying. ‘On the contrary,’ she replied. ‘It is now only just beginning.'” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read)

Additional Quotes from The Alchemyst
“But of course, everyone knew that magic simply did not and could not exist.” (Loc.213)

“‘You’ve left the safe and mundane world you once knew,’ Nicholas Flamel said seriously, looking at each twin in turn. ‘Nothing is as it seems. You must learn to question everything. To wait before moving, to look before stepping and to observe everything.'” (Loc. 715)

“‘Every magician has his or her own distinctive odor; rather like a magical fingerprint. You must learn to heed your senses. Humans use but a tiny percentage of theirs. They barely look, they rarely listen, they never smell, and they think that they can only experience feelings through their skin. But they talk, oh, do they talk. That makes up for the lack of use of their other senses. When you return to your own world, you will be able to recognize people who have some taint of magical energy.’ He cut out a neat cube of apple and popped it into his mouth. ‘You may notice a peculiar scent, you might even taste it or see it as a shimmer around their bodies.'” (Loc. 1904)

“…magic is really only the utilization of the entire spectrum of the senses.” (Loc. 2841)

“You’re asking a lot of them. When are you going to tell them the whole truth?” (Loc. 2916)

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