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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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What's the story?
Teen twins Josh and Sophie discover, in a rather explosive way, that the San Francisco bookstore owner Josh works for is really Nicholas Flamel, a nearly 700-year-old alchemist who created the Philosopher's Stone, from which he and his wife Perenelle get the Elixir of Life. Their enemy is Dr. John Dee, who works for the Dark Elders, members of the Elder Race who are the source of most of humanity's ancient myths and legends. The Dark Elders want to reinstate their dominion over the Earth.
Dee kidnaps Perenelle and steals the Codex, an ancient book containing the secrets of magic, and a prophecy involving twins. But Josh accidentally ends up with the final two pages, and now Dee and his masters and minions are out to reclaim the pages, and enlist or kill the twins. As they race across the West Coast, members of the Elder Race begin lining up on both sides.
Is it any good?
This is a slam-bang, fantasy-adventure, with enough action to keep the most rabid genre fans happy, and enough references to ancient stories to keep the mind working. Harry Potter fans will recognize the name Nicholas Flamel, and may be surprised to learn that J.K. Rowling didn't make him up. Irish author and mythology expert Michael Scott has taken elements from Flamel's legend, woven them together with myths and stories from around the world, and set the whole thing in modern-day California.
Though the good-vs.-evil and kids-with-secret-powers themes may be well worn by now, nothing about this story -- from its setting and characters to its intricate use of myth to create an alternative history of earth -- is typical. Though an appendix with references for all the characters and places mentioned in the story would have been welcome, this book, the first of a planned series, is plain old-fashioned fun, with an intellectual gloss that will give fans something to look into while waiting for the next in the series.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the world-wide mythology behind the story and how allusions to Flamel compare to mentions of him in the Harry Potter books. Kids might also be interested in reading more about the myths the author uses, and the ways in which he has tried to make sense of the legendary past. If the gods of the ancient world lived today, how might they appear to human beings? What would you do if you were immortal? Are the powers Sophie gains worth the pain?
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