Archie Greene and the Alchemist’s Curse

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Archie Greene and the Alchemist’s Curse was written by D.D. Everest and first published in 2016. It forms the second part of a trilogy and is preceded by Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret (2015). The final instalment of the series – Archie Greene and the Raven’s Spell – is due for release at the start of next month. The series is aimed at middle grade readers and focuses on the continuing adventures of an apprentice caretaker of magical books.

Archie Greene loves studying book mending under the watchful eye of Old Zeb, but is thrilled that he will soon receive his second firemark and learn what school of book magic he will be learning next. Better still, it is almost his cousin Thistle’s birthday, and so he will also be taking the fire test and joining them at Mothballs – the Museum of Magical Miscellany.

However, when Thistle arrives to take his test, the Flame of Pharos begins to act strangely. Instead of one of the usual three firemarks, both boys receive a golden one in the shape of a snake eating its own tail. Three other students – Bramble, Rupert and Arabella – also find themselves similarly inflicted. It is the alchemist’s mark – a symbol that has not been seen since the time of the Great Fire of London – and it means that the five are capable of writing their own magic!

With the alchemist’s mark, the five children realise that they could finally begin repairing the fading magical books and ushering in a new age of magic. However, their marks carry a sinister history and ties to dark magicians of old. When Archie also discovers that there is a fork in his destiny, he begins to grow worried. His entire future hinges on one unknown moment when he will have to choose between using his power for good or evil. Yet how can he avoid a terrible fate if he does not know what form this moment will take?

In my previous review, I talked about how similarities between the Archie Greene and Harry Potter series were just superficial, however that’s unfortunately less true this time around. The first book took a unique approach to the magical world in that the human characters weren’t actually magical in themselves. They merely had the knowledge and ability to repair and maintain existing magical works. While there was an indication that wizards had existed at one time, it felt more as though they were a thing of the past and that they only real danger was what they had left behind.

That’s not the case anymore. Now that the concept of writing magic and casting spells (known somewhat confusingly as “spelling” within the novel) have entered proceedings, the book has much more of the feel of a Harry Potter story. There is also the addition to other things that Potter fans may find familiar, including wizarding schools, mental hospitals for magical people and books with the power to possess people. However, the differences are still what makes Archie Greene interesting. This series is more deeply rooted in our world with historical factors (particularly the Fire of Alexandria, the Plague and the Great Fire of London) playing a very important role within the story.

Yet my biggest issue with this series still stands. It just tries to be far too much and, in doing so, is too busy. Everest is clearly trying to flesh out an original world in a very low page count. At least one new concept shows up every chapter and needs to be explained to the reader in full. There are so many of these within the story that the book even has a ten-page glossary in the back to remind you of what everything means. Trouble is, a lot of these ideas are totally irrelevant to proceedings.

Just take for example the complicated way that fortunes are told (including the function of both a fortune smeller and fortune yeller), or the many steps that an apprentice needs to go through just to get into Mothballs. The bombardment of technical terms is more than a little overwhelming to a reader, making the story little more than a melting pot of ideas. Although plot points occasionally rise to the surface, they quickly sink again beneath a wave of needless details (such as the name and abilities of every animal in the magical menagerie) and a huge number of named secondary characters.

In terms of plot, this book does at least advance the overarching story, slipping in hints of a wider picture that I hope will be relevant in the final instalment. We learn more of the threat to the museum and the fate of Archie’s parents, as well as the introduction of some new curios such as what happened to Fabian Grey, the last known alchemist. The direct plot of this volume is largely self-contained but does have some structural issues. Most of the threads are only drawn together over the last fifteen pages. Up until this point, there isn’t even much of a clue regarding who may be responsible for a lot of the bad things that happen around Mothballs, including the identity of the person who sent Rupert the hexed pendant.

In terms of characterisation, the novel was also a little weak. As I previously mentioned, the cast of this story is huge. It’s so big that I constantly found myself forgetting who was who, especially as many characters shared surnames and the author seemed to flit between using given or family names when referring to them (for example, Morag is sometimes called by her first name and other times “Pandrama”). Even the major characters don’t get a lot of development. The villain’s entire motivation isn’t exposited until the climax and Archie’s friends are all rather interchangeable. I’m pretty sure that Rupert doesn’t have a personality. He’s so bland that I often found myself forgetting he was even present in scenes.

Even Archie is a bit of a blank slate. While I didn’t dislike him, he just came across as being a bit of a Gary-Stu. He’s just far more capable than he really has any reason being. He’s only known about the magical world for a few months, and yet he’s already the most powerful wizard. He’s all but mastered the most difficult form of book husbandry, is capable of astral projection, can talk to books, and is the only person in the series so far who has proven able to write new spells. This is really frustrating to read, as this absurd amount of power makes him seem very shallow. He even manages to save the life of one of the elders at one point! Archie never really feels as though he’s in any danger, and the ease in which he does everything leeches away any tension that the novel could otherwise have.

Anyhow, I think I’ve said enough. I was really underwhelmed by this book. While it may appeal to Harry Potter fans, its nowhere near as memorable or engrossing as Rowling’s series. I’ll probably take a look at the final book next month just to see how Archie’s story concludes, but I must admit that I’m not especially excited to find out.

Archie Greene and the Alchemist’s Curse can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

Advertisements

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Archie Greene and the Raven’s Spell | Arkham Reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog Stats

  • 26,527 awesome people have visited this blog

© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

All novels reviewed on this site are © to their respective authors.

%d bloggers like this: