Sunday, 12 September 2010
Review: The Necromancer by Michael Scott (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel)
Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris on 28 September 1330. Nearly seven hundred years later, he is acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of his day. It is said that he discovered the secret of eternal life. The records show that he died in 1418. But his tomb is empty and Nicholas Flamel lives. The secret of eternal life is hidden within the book he protects - the Book of Abraham the Mage. It's the most powerful book that has ever existed. In the wrong hands, it will destroy the world. And that's exactly what Dr. John Dee plans to do when he steals it. Humankind won't know what's happening until it's too late. And if the prophecy is right, Sophie and Josh Newman are the only ones with the power to save the world as we know it. Sometimes legends are true. And Sophie and Josh Newman are about to find themselves in the middle of the greatest legend of all time. (In order to avoid spoilers, book details are for The Alchemyst, the first book in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series).
In my mind I hold a list of children's authors that I find truely inspirational, and near the top of that list is Michael Scott. For those of you who have never come across his Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series then I both pity you and envy you. The first because you are missing out on one of the greatest fantasy series for young readers since Harry Potter, and the latter because I know what a huge treat you have in store for you should you ever start to read the first book in the series, The Alchemyst. It is to my great bewilderment that Michael Scott and his books are not better known in the UK, although his publisher tells me that over in the US readers just can't get enough of him (and I quote: "he’s practically worshipped in the US"). UK readers of The Book Zone I implore you to go to your local library/book shop/online retailer and rectify this!
I remember exactly when and where I bought The Alchemyst, the first book in this series. It was on a day trip to London and my wife and I had gone to the Science Museum. At the end of our visit I wandered into the book shop there and saw this on display, shouting "Buy me!". I started reading it on the train on the way home and she had to drag me off when we got into our station.
The Necromancer is the fourth book in a planned series of six, and at approximately 400 pages each you have some catching up to do. When I went away to Menorca for a week recently I treated myself by taking all four books with me as I had just received a copy of The Necromancer from the generous people at Random House and wanted to refresh myself of the story so far, and I enjoyed them just as much the second time around. Michael Scott has an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things mythological and the series is laced with characters and events from the myths of myriad cultures and eras. You name it and it is probably in there: from Celtic to Mayan and Egyptian to Norse.
Although this post is supposed to be a review of The Necromancer, now that I have started writing it I have decided that it is an impossible task to do this without creating spoilers for books one to three (if you came here looking for a review of this book then please accept my apologies, but rest assured it is easily as good as its predeceesors). So instead I will just explain why I love this series so much. First of all there are the characters, every single one of them. The twins, Sophie and Josh, who are believed to be the magical twins of an ancient prophecy; Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel, the immortal alchemysts, who have dedicated their lives to protecting humanity from the forces of evil; Dr John Dee, one of said forces of evil; Scathach the ancient vampire, helping the Flamels in their fight; this list could go on and on and on. Every single character in these books brings their own special something to the story; yet even with so many bit-players the stories never seem overcrowded, such is the skill of the author in weaving them into the plot. And if you think you recognise some of these names then you would be correct in your thinking: Nicholas and Perenelle were real life alchemysts who lived in France in the 14th Century; John Dee was a 'comsultant' to Elizabeth I back in the 16th Century; and they don't stop there...... the likes of William Shakespeare, Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc and Niccolo Machiavelli all have a part to play in this epic fantasy story as well.
The mythological elements in these books will have great appeal to boys. I grew up fascinated by the mythology of different cultures, and I wish i had more time these days to read more books about this. This series will inspire its readers to want to investigate the actual myths and legends on which the events and characters are base, and even if this is limited to quick scans of wikipedia this can only be a good thing. I have spent far too long googling the likes of Gilgamesh, Aiofe and Scathach, and Coatlicue when I should be doing other (possibly more pressing?)things. Some readers may struggle to keep up at times: these books are aimed at the 11+ age range but less confident readers may find them a little confusing. However, confident readers will devour the detailed plot. Most adults who discover these books will also gain a great deal of pleasure from reading them, in much the same way that they did with the Harry Potter series.
I mentioned the detailed pot just now and although it is rich in detail it is also very fast paced, with some scenes so frantic that you feel light-headed at the end of them because you have been so engrossed you have forgotten to breathe properly. There is also much twisting and turning going on - Josh and Sophie never really know exactly who they should be trusting, even four books into the series. They have been told by Scathach that the only people they can really trust is each other, but as events unfold at such a dramatic rate will this even be the case by the end of the series.
Reading back through this review I can feel my passion for this series emanating from my words, and I hope that is evident to all who read this review. If you love fantasy and still read and re-read the Harry Potter books, or want something a little more complex then this really is the series for you. There are four books in the series so far: The Alchemyst, The Magician, The Sorceress and The Necromancer, and according to Amazon book five, The Warlock, is currently scheduled for a May 2011 release.