The first two installments of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel are really good, and no, they’re not Harry Potter rip-offs. J.K. Rowling and Michael Scott both take the characters of Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel (aside: awful name she’s got, eh?) from legend. History is reasonable certain that they were born in the fourteenth century, and died in the fifteenth, but there’s been some funny hocus-pocus involving graves…
Anyway, beginning in The Alchemyst and continuing in The Magician, two perfectly normal teenagers – twins, of course, Josh and Sophie – are caught up in perfectly abnormal events after Josh’s employer at a used bookstore is attacked by a couple golems in an attempt to steal a book. Naturally, this is not just any book; it is the Codex, and the bookstore owner is not just any bookstore owner (though even the most ordinary bookstore owner is, by nature, awesome), and these are not just any twins.
Ready? Set? Go.
This is fantasy and modern mythology at its best. The magic is used consistently and is powerful but limited; the myths are fascinating and well enough explained that you don’t need to go running to wikipedia constantly, but not so thoroughly explained that you get bogged down in exposition. And while the more curious reader may want to go for wikipedia after finishing, the author’s note adds a nice bit of extra information. The characters feel true – the potential for jealousy and the fear of being left behind are particularly well done – whether Gen Y teenagers, nigh-immortal humans, or being much, much older than that. Even the bad guys are complex and nuanced, without for a moment compromising their bad guy status.
Just as good is the writing. I’m pretty good at reading on the subway, getting lost in the book just enough to appreciate it without missing my stop. I’ve actually never missed my stop due to a book. (Yet.) Reading The Magician, I had a couple very close calls. The pacing is intense; you’re constantly being pulled along to the next plot point, to the next realization. Even when there’s a moment to breathe between dangers, the stuff you learn and the interactions between characters are fascinating and keep you absorbed. If anything, at a few points the narration moves too quickly. I had to fight the temptation to skim; I wanted to know what happened, but there were so many details I didn’t want to miss.
Now comes the part of this review I’ve been pondering since the idea of this blog was planted in my brain a couple months ago. There is one substantial flaw in The Magician, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to explain it without giving things away. I think I will just say that at one point, the author decides to play with the minds of the readers. Gentle reader, don’t let him. Believe what your instincts tell you. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
And I hope you do get there, because these are bloody good books, and with more to come. YAY!