Dr. Illuminatus: Its strength is also its weakness

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMartin Booth fantasy review Alchemist's Son Dr IlluminatusDr. Illuminatus by Martin Booth

Doctor Illuminatus is the first of what promises to be three books, and it deserves two and a half stars, putting it exactly midpoint between good and just fair. Though it has an interesting premise and is full of fascinating facts and ideas, it often falls short on several accounts.

Pip and Tim are two twins that have just moved into an old, mysterious house called Rawne Barton: your standard beginning for a fantasy story of this nature. Before long, the siblings have uncovered a strange boy hidden in the walls of the house named Sebastian who claims to be the son of a medieval alchemist. He has been in a drugged sleep for the last six centuries, and has now awoken in order to battle his father’s enemy de Loudeac. In league with the devil himself, de Loudeac plans to create a homunculus, a being made out of dead matter that will do his bidding. Sebastian tells the twins that even now de Loudeac is gathering the ingredients he needs from the countryside.
Whilst Sebastian goes about his own mysterious business, the twins do their best to continue their day to day chores, but inevitably they are caught between Sebastian and de Loudeac’s struggle.

Martin Booth’s strength throughout the story is also his weakness, and that is that he incorporates a lot of real history and facts about alchemy into the work. These touches are excellent, as they brought a sense of resonance and ‘realness’ to the story, but at the same time they will only be appealing for those that already have a basic understanding of some of these historical figures and alchemical principles.

I was halfway in the middle, enjoying and appreciating some of the touches that were not just put in the story for their own sake, but actually used, but at other times struggling to sort out the myriad of names and facts and figures that he gives us.
Despite this however, Booth wonderfully matches ancient alchemy with their counterparts in modern day.

The characters are also quite problematic: Sebastian is an interesting enigma that lights up the page, but the twins are less enjoyable. Tim spends most of the beginning of the book denying that all the weird and wonderful events around him aren’t real — this is a waste of time considering 1. They obviously are happening, and 2. When a reader opens a fantasy book, they are already agreeing to the rules of normality being broken — the author doesn’t need to over-explain or justify the supernatural. Second of all, Pip isn’t actually a strong heroine. Looking at Martin Booth’s previous publications, which are mostly war and survival stories (with boys as the protagonists), I came to the conclusion that Booth simply doesn’t know how to portray females. Throughout the story, she is mostly shown gardening, shopping and being attacked, whilst Tim does the most to push the story along. When the final conflict does come, the boys use her as a decoy (though to be fair, she does manage to knock an enemy on the head with a rock).

Some things are introduced only to be forgotten, such as the mysterious bottle at the school and a cameo appearance from the devil, but I assume these are devices will be continued in the second book. Despite all my complaints, I was intrigued by the story, so I will track down the next installment: Soul Stealer.

The Alchemist’s Son — (2003-2004) Ages 9-12. Publisher: When Tim and Pip’s family moves to an old English country estate, they accidentally awaken an alchemist’s son, Sebastian, from a centuries-old slumber. But Sebastian’s father’s enemy, Pierre de Loudeac, has also awakened — and is relentlessly pursuing the dream of alchemists to create an homunculus, an artificial human made from dead material. Aided by Sebastian’s wise guidance and insight into six hundred years’ history, the two spirited siblings bravely take action to stop the man’s ominous quest. But even as they daringly defeat de Loudeac in this battle, Evil lives on… All the magic in Dr. Illuminatus is real, the author has noted, the chants, the herbs, the potions, and the equipment. The irresistible combination of history, humor, and horror will keep young readers on the edge of their seats — and anxious for the next installment.

Martin Booth The Alchemist's Son 1. Doctor Illuminatus 2. Soul Stealer fantasy book reviewsMartin Booth The Alchemist's Son 1. Doctor Illuminatus 2. Soul Stealer fantasy book reviews


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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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