Monday, January 21, 2008

"The Alchemyst: The Secret of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel"
by Michael Scott

The idea sounds really cool. Ancient book (Book of Abraham the Mage), immortal dude (Nicholas Flamel), modern day San Francisco, Ojai, Paris, and others, and a whole bunch of magic and alchemy. Sweet!

Bitter! Man was this book a disappointment. Sometimes, when you're going somewhere, and you know what's going to happen, it gets old. You fall asleep. I'm just glad the drive was short because it really could have been dangerous.

It's not all bad, and I have to give credit where credit is due. Michael Scott does a great job of weaving actual events, Gods, and historical people into the story. Nicholas Flamel was an actual person, Perenelle was his wife, Dr. John Dee was a famous everyman, etc. So on that level, the book is an exciting read, and the points it brings up could send you on a weeks long search through the occult on wikipedia. For that, I am grateful, because hearing about obscure things that could be real always excites the imagination, and The Alchemyst certainly does that.

I don't really need to delve into the plot too much (if you're interested, go here), but essentially two twins with perfect silver and gold auras get mistakenly wrapped up in an immortal battle that will decide the fate of the human race. Everything will depend on them, but you'll have to wait for the following books to come out because this is a series!

Constructive criticism: too much fighting against dead things, not enough focus on character. I didn't believe or care about any of the characters, and not once was I wondering what was going to happen. It's a shame too because the idea is a solid one.

Great cover, bad insides. Next!

When I Was Your Age
"No Country For Old Men"
by Cormac McCarthy

The opening scenes of this novel felt like a smack in the face, as McCarthy goes.

I'm used to slow, methodical openings, like a sunrise, from McCarthy. You get into the story like you get in cold water, hesitantly at first, fully later. Usually, he sets his characters up in ambiguous ways, and things happen to them after a few beautiful chapters. Here, you're running the moment you open the book.

It was amazing! Awesome! Thrilling, adventure, morality set against the scales of life and death, it was the perfect way to start the reading year off. And if that's any indication of what's in store, I can't wait.

Earlier, I called The Road McCarthy's most accessibe, but I said that ignorant of this earlier book of his. No Country For Old Men is just as accessible, if not more, than McCarthy's latest; it's definitely his most thrilling.

Llewellyn Moss, on a hunting expedition, stumbles upon a scene in the desert he's not prepared for: the aftermath of a drug trade gone bad. Dead bodies scatter the hot desert ridge where Moss finds millions of dollars in cash along with some heroine in the back of one of the trucks. He takes the cash and scoots off, but later doubts lead him back to the scene, where he is spotted by a man that pursues him to no end, stopping at nothing to get the money back.

Moss is pursued by the drug cartel, who are scary but not in comparison with his other pursuer, Chigurh. Chigurh is evil come real, he is fate and God aligned in man, all the malice and terror you would expect from such a person.

And throughout all this mess is the story of the sheriff of the town, who is riddled by his own demons while he struggles to bring Moss in and ultimately save him from Chigurh, who scares everyone.

McCarthy's ethereal writing lends a terrible weight to the themes of this novel, and his answers are just as disturbing as they ever are, so if you're a McCarthy fan, you're in for quite a treat. I love how he plays the story out and subverts the plot to shed light on the real issues, the real threat of mankind, rather than distract us with just another great story. What McCarthy does well here is what he's best at: evoking a feeling that has a purpose.

Today, there really is no country for old men, things really aren't as easy or as innocent as they once were. So much is working against us. As ever, McCarthy lets us know that the real hope is in the hopeless, our real motivations are never as pure as we want them to be, and, man, this world is messed up. Here, I have to agree. Read this book.