With the recent publication of Book #6, The Enchantress, Michael Scott's series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel comes to an end. This is a great series for middle grade readers -- I remember that 4th or 5th grade was the age when I really got hooked on mythology. It's also a great series for teen and adult readers. Although a few of the books drag in certain spots, overall the series moves along quickly and covers such a huge range of mythologies and famous characters (my favorites being Virginia Dare and Billy the Kid). What I love most is how Scott uses such a massive story to tell a tale that is so intimate and individual in the end. Here's a look at the 6 books in the series, along with two accompanying e-books.
The Alchemyst (4 stars)
You know, once Harry Potter hit it big, the market was just saturated with young adult and children's fantasy novels -- some good, and some really really terrible ones. I've been reading children's and young adult fantasy since I was a kid (naturally) and I've got some pretty strict standards, I guess. Luckily, Scott's book is one of the good ones. It's something that has the potential to be heavy-handed or overdone, since it features some pretty stock situations -- prophecies, kids being thrust into magic out of nowhere, old myths come to life...But Scott handles these things beautifully, and I particularly LOVE how he's pulled so much historical and mythical information together. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.
The Magician (4 stars)
More like a 3.5/5 -- I enjoyed this one like I did the first one, but this one seemed to drag on a bit more, even though I think it was longer. The premise is very engaging, and this installment introduced us to several new immortals / Elders. I especially enjoyed Machiavelli's (yes, *that* Machiavelli) character, and I'm glad to see that Scott doesn't fall into the trap of making his good characters all good and vice versa. However, he's crap at writing dialogue.
The Sorceress (4 stars)
This is another YA fantasy series that I've been following from the start, and I'm always eager to see the next installment. For round #3, I think Scott has redeemed himself; I thought the first novel was great, but the second one was a little bit of a let-down for me. That's not to say that there aren't some issues with this one, but overall, the good outweighs the bad.
The good: When it comes to bringing in new characters based on mythology and historical figures, I think Scott nailed it with this novel. Not only are these characters intriguing, but Scott's perspective and character-building moves beyond what we know and imagines an all-too-believable life for them. I love when a writer can deftly take what we know about a character and combines it with a "what if?" I also think Scott has done a good job of pushing relationships and character motivation farther in this novel. As I mentioned in a previous review, I like the fact that Scott's characters are all three-dimensional and that his good guys aren't all good, and his bad guys aren't all bad. This means that there's some questioning and doubt going on as far as motivation and purpose are concerned, and that's one of the things that can really pull me into the story.
The bad: Scott has three or four storylines going on here; normally that wouldn't bother me, but there are one or two that just seem tacked on, as though he'd forgotten about those characters right up until the end. A few of the characters are obviously introduced just to move the plot along, and when they come up against the really strong characters, it just shows how poorly developed they are. That's something that could've been prevented, I think.
I think Scott should be praised for writing a YA fantasy series that follows in the wake of Harry Potter without being weak or derivative. I've seen mention that there are still three more books in this series, so I'm excited to see where Scott takes his characters next.
The Necromancer (4 stars)
Maybe more like a 3.75. I think some of my issues have to do with the structure of the entire series, more so than anything to do with one specific book. Since the series is set to cover a period of time that's maybe 10 days in length, having to wait a year for each book to come out causes problems in the flow and pacing. This is an instance where it might be better to hold off and read all the books at once -- an omnibus edition would be even better (and definitely a companion book that details all the characters/backstory/etc). That said, I think the pacing and action were good in this installment. It felt a little drawn out at times because we are following so many storylines by this point, but I think that happens in a series of any length. I don't think Josh's character was nearly as annoying this time around, and some interesting themes in terms of trust and relationships (both sibling and romantic) are rising to the forefront. I'm still just as enamored with the mythological characters and even more so with the Immortals (famous figures from history), and that's what keeps me coming back to this series.
The Warlock (4 stars)
Still really enjoying this series. It's a great melding of all the things I'd like to find in a YA fantasy series. Looking forward to the last one to see how this adventure wraps up.
The Enchantress (4 stars)
I've got mixed feelings about the final installment of this series. First of all, I think that one of the key themes -- whether humankind is worth saving -- is developed beautifully through the book, and the closer, more intimate look at many of the Elders and their relationships helps to bring this theme to life much more richly. There are some very moving conversations and scenes. However, I still had issues with the pacing -- some scenes moved entirely too quickly, some dragged on for what seemed like forever, and some really key scenes got summed up in a way that just made me angry. (Had I been reading the book instead of listening to the audio version, I might very well have put it down and walked off at that point.) Several of my hunches paid off, and ultimately I was satisfied with the way things ended -- although I worked myself into a time-travel-themed snarl inside my head, trying to figure out some details. I'm still not clear on them, but I can't really discuss them here without revealing spoilers.
I listened to the audio version, and I'm amazed at how well the narrator was able to keep the different voices and characters separate. However, I do think that the audio version unfortunately emphasized many of the weaknesses in Scott's writing, particularly when it comes to dialogue and description.
The Death of Joan of Arc (2 stars)
I really enjoy the characters of Joan of Arc and Scathach in Scott's series, but this short story doesn't really add anything new to what we know. There are no new insights into these characters -- it's just a recounting of how Scathach saved Joan of Arc from being burned at the stake so that she could become one of the immortals. So, there's plot, but not much in terms of motivation or explanation. Plus, the story is from another person's POV, and it really doesn't add anything to the series either. I enjoyed getting back into this series' world for a bit, but I don't feel like I came away from it with anything worthwhile
Billy the Kid and the Vampyres of Vegas (3 stars)
This is another short story set in the world Scott has created for his Nicholas Flamel series. This time, we're treated to a little more of the backstory and character development for Billy the Kid -- or at least, that's what you would assume. However, the story ends up being just as much (if not more) about Scathach, the Shadow. Both are characters I've enjoyed through the main series, however, so that's okay with me. The story progresses nicely -- there's good dialogue and pacing, though the setting could have been a little more extensively drawn. Still, everything is good until we get to the climax of the story. That's where the tension and particularly any emotional development just goes flat. I get that this encounter is supposed to be a big deal, but it's just not. Other than that, this is a fine little story to add to the rest of the series.