[ Book Review ] A pretty cover does not a good book make. Sadly.

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…

…Niccolò Machiavelli?

You’ve got me wanting to read your second book even though I didn’t like the first.

Touché, writer. Touché.

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About theothercanary

Science journalist by day, canary by night, Meg lives with a cat named Thing Two and a computer named Squishy. She has a writing degree from John Hopkins and a Nook that she plans to utilize to its full capacity the next time she needs to escape being chased by zombie raptors. View all posts by theothercanary

19 responses to “[ Book Review ] A pretty cover does not a good book make. Sadly.

  • Charli

    I have been torn between thinking these books look awesome and I should buy them and the idea that they had high potential to be formulaic and insufficiently exciting.I guess I’ll save my money now. Thanks, Canary! I must admit Machiavelli is tempting, though . . .

    • theothercanary

      Every time I see the sequel in the store, I’m so tempted to buy it. Then I remind myself how really just terrible the first book was. One of these days, I know I’ll give in though. Stupid pretty covers…

  • Chris Kouju

    I have to admit that I had wondered about The Alchemyst. Thank you for the review!

    And for shame, you fold for Machiavelli? ;)

    • theothercanary

      I know, I know, there is something inherently wrong in my weakness for Machiavelli. And I do feel like there are definitely better YA books out there to read!

  • celawerd

    I have not read these books, but I thought they might be a ripoff of Harry Potter.

    • theothercanary

      It was more like a rip off of Riordan (for the blend of mythology and sibling characters) and Susan Cooper’s (for the overall tone) work. Either way, they just aren’t good books.

  • Chris Kouju

    I do have to admit I shameless fold for pretty covers :)

  • raggedy11

    Oh my goodness… this series is one of my FAVORITE series. I can’t wait for each book to be released and now that I have a Kindle this was a book I had to buy in hardback format, not e-book. I have re-read and re-enjoyed some of the books in this series and although it reminds me of Harry Potter, it is not something I tire of. (Must admit I didn’t read some of the other books you referred to)
    My friend got me to read it when our bookclub was schedule to read Paul Cello’s The Alchemist and she picked up both. We all enjoyed Michael Scott’s book a lot more. Each to our own taste.

    • theothercanary

      Perhaps the books get better as the series goes on? I don’t remember disliking the writing style, I just really was bored to death by the story. Is the second book considerably better than the first?

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  • DebE

    The funny thing is that it was your link from the Rick Riordan review that sent me scampering here just for the pure entertainment of a Dead Canary… now I will go back to the other post! Thanks again for helping me fine-tune me “to read” list.

  • theothercanary

    It’s funny what a good review about a bad book can do for the spirits. :D

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  • Orville

    “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.”

    The Alchemyst came out in 2007 and Percy Jackson came out in 2009…So I feel it’s wrong to judge this book on the criteria that the topic is overused quoting a book that came out two years afterwards. Other than that I think your review was very good. You had a lot of valid points and I hope to see more from you in the future.

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