The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel I: The Alchemyst. By Michael Scott. Delacorte Press. $16.99.
Billy Hooten #1: Owlboy. By Thomas E. Sniegoski. Illustrated by Eric Powell. Yearling. $5.99.
Some young readers casting about for an antidote to post-Harry-Potter blues may enjoy fastening onto either of these two books, both of which are the beginnings of new series. The Alchemyst is intended for ages 12 and up and has more of the seriousness that J.K. Rowling built into her Potter novels. There is a germ of truth underlying it: there really was a Nicholas Flamel, who lived from 1330 to 1418 and was a highly esteemed alchemist. Alchemists were seeking, among other things, the Philosopher’s Stone, which could change base metal to gold and provide eternal life (the object’s name is part of the title of the first Potter book, although it was changed to “Sorcerer’s Stone” for the American edition). Michael Scott takes off from the idea that Flamel could indeed have discovered the secret of eternal life, hidden within a volume called The Book of Abraham the Mage, which Flamel has kept throughout the ages and continues to protect. Now, in the modern world, the sinister Dr. John Dee – once a spy for Queen Elizabeth I – is determined to get his hands on the book for his own nefarious purposes; but according to a prophecy, young twins Sophie and John Newman have the power to help Flamel protect the book, and the world, from Dr. Dee’s evil machinations. This is pretty straightforward magical-adventure stuff, but Scott keeps the plot moving ahead briskly and maintains a sense of familiarity of place and circumstance: for example, the twins ride in an SUV across the
Younger Potter fans, ages 9-12, and aficionados of the more juvenile jokes in Rowling’s books, may have some fun with the humorous fantasy in the first book of the Owlboy series. Here, put-upon Billy Hooten makes the mistake of answering a cry for help from a cemetery, and finds himself transformed into a superhero whose job is to protect