August 14, 2008


The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel II: The Magician. By Michael Scott. Delacorte Press. $16.99.

The Legend of Asahiel, Book Three: The Divine Talisman. By Eldon Thompson. Eos. $25.95.

      There is a lot of chasing hither and thither in the second book of the planned six-book series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. The real Flamel, a highly esteemed alchemist, lived from 1330 to 1418. Michael Scott’s idea is that Flamel succeeded in finding the Philosopher’s Stone, which provides eternal life, and therefore made himself immortal. Scott embellishes this basic concept by suggesting that the Stone was 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 fraternal twins Sophie and John Newman have the power to help Flamel protect the book, and the world, from Dr. Dee’s evil machinations. This story was set up in the first book of the series, The Alchemyst. Now, in The Magician, Sophie and Josh roam the world from California to France as they try to protect the book’s secrets and evade none other than Niccolò Machiavelli, who is working for Dr. Dee and the forces of the Dark Elders. The mixing of historical figures with modern youths is not surprising in a work intended for ages 12 and up, but after a while, the Machiavelli angle gets a little tiresome (Joan of Arc shows up here, too, and a statue of Mars awakens, and much more). Also in The Magician is Flamel’s wife, Perenelle, who is locked up in (of all places) Alcatraz, where she is aging a year every day, as is Flamel himself (a side effect of each day without the book, on whose deciphering Dr. Dee and the forces of evil are working assiduously). Flamel needs to teach Sophie elemental fire magic to give her the power to protect him, Perenelle, and indeed the entire world. Readers who avoid taking this whole chase-adventure too seriously will have fun, but Scott seems determined to make the entire thing more portentous than it is – with the result that it constantly spills over into melodrama, and rather formulaic melodrama at that: “And the first prophecy of the Codex has come to pass,” Dr. Dee intones. “We have found the two that are one.” Best not to laugh at any of this – but it does seem unintentionally funny on more than one occasion.

      There is nothing remotely amusing about The Legend of Asahiel, a trilogy that concludes with The Divine Talisman and that is also, in its own way, about the conquest of death and the consequences of that victory. Eldon Thompson, a novelist and screenwriter, writes for adults and is very serious indeed: Torin, king of the region called Alson, sacrifices his life to protect his people, the Pentanians, from the evil, demonic Illysp. Torin leaves behind his best friend and his former bride, who lead the surviving forces – but who lose their greatest weapon, the crimson sword (the sword provided the title of the first book, which was followed by The Obsidian Key). And where does the conquest of death come in? Torin is reanimated – but far from being an inspiration to his people, he becomes their greatest enemy, for he is possessed by one of the Illysp and turns against the very ones he gave his life to save. Like most modern epic fantasies, The Divine Talisman is a curious mixture of the trappings of ancient heroism and the language of everyday modern Earth: “Time to move out, General.” “Mother’s mercy.” “With all due respect, sir, it seemed a terrible risk.” “I only want her to be happy.” “You don’t know what you want, or who.” Readers enthralled by the unraveling of riddles that leads to the trilogy’s climax will likely ignore (or not care about) the means of expression, but others may wish that the descriptions of wondrous events had been presented in less mundane language – and with less ultimate predictability about the story’s eventual outcome.

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