Monday, 2 May 2011

Joanne Owen - The Alchemist and the Angel - Book Review

                                            The Alchemist and the Angel - 9781444001945
  • Pages - 224
  • Date - 5 May 2011
  • Publisher - Orion Children's Books
  • Format - Paperback Edition - 9781444001945
  • Age 11+

I've been a big fan of Joanne's work after reading her debut book "Puppet Master" back in 2008. For some reason, this book passed me by when it was published in hardback, and became lost within the many piles of books at that time. However, when this attractive paperback copy arrived I placed it straight at the top of the reading pile, so as not to make the same mistake twice, and I'm so glad that I did.

I read this book in one sitting, which is a great sign of how much I was engrossed in the story as I did not want to put it down - it's that good! The book is thoroughly researched, using 16th century papers and documents, bringing together real-life events and characters of the time of Emperor Rudolf's reign. The author draws upon the culture and explosive lives of people who lived in Prague at that time. She has managed to blend a mixture of facts and real-life accounts into the book, whilst also adapting historical events and characters. This blend gives the book an air of authenticity - it feels like you're re-living an important part of history.

The theme of the book is based on the quest for eternal life. This quest changes orphaned Jan's world when he goes to live with his beloved Uncle Gustav, who is an anatomist, natural scientist and an aspiring alchemist. As they set about making a life-generating serum, Uncle Gustav dies suddenly, and events take a mysterious and dark turn. As a result, Jan and his secretive aunt move from picturesque Vienna to a new life in the hustle and bustle of Prague. 

The story highlights and encompasses a Gothic feel, which is true to the time. The depiction of the plague-ridden ghettos, and the account of mad Emperor Rudolf's reign, are a joy to read. The telling of the wonders inside the Cabinet of Curiosities, particularly at the end of the story, are just brilliant. As well as the thought provoking Chapel of Bones, which everyone should visit, if they dare . . . . .  

The book features a number of folktales, which run parallel to the main storyline, but blend in with the overall effect. They are a delight to read, although each one is quite macabre and dark, but still I deliciously devoured the sinister mood. 

There is so much to this story that I would definitely recommend. It has all of the ingredients that I look for in a book; a dark adventure with massive amounts of imagination and historical detail, themes of alchemy, treachery and greed all written beautifully alongside a back drop of beautiful Prague. I really hope that the next book that Joanne writes is as good as this.
                                               
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