Review of the series 'The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel'

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

'The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel' ranks among the most innovative and atypical Young Adult series I have read

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While the series is named after the character Nicholas Flamel, the main characters are actually a set of twins - Sophie and Josh Newman. The books - set of 6 with an additional two novellas (last I checked) - chart the life and events of these twins over a period of a month after they discover that magic is real. While this type of plot device is common in the YA genre (magic is real/the chosen ones), Michael Scott excels in where he takes this premise.

The world-building is fantastic - it is a great combination of the myths we know but with an additional twist on top. Add to this, the various layers of complexity/mystery that we encounter as the series progresses, and we have something like the 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' type universe, but for the YA audience. There is a history behind the history which makes the world so compelling. Add to it the additional myths of Atlantis, Lost World etc. and the journey is so compelling.

Of course, no amount of world-building will compensate for a lack of compelling characters, and Michael Scott does a great job with all of the characters - the main ones as well as the side. Everybody gets a back story (that we discover as we go along), they get great motivations for being what they are and doing what they do. People who are villains in the initial books (or for that matter, heroes) are shown to be far more 'greyish' in the latter ones. The 'good' characters do bad things, and the 'bad' characters do good deeds. In the end, it all turns out to be a matter of perspective and understanding. I liked all the characters - Sophie, Josh, Perenelle, Nicholas and even the author's takes on historical figures like Machiavelli, John Dee (the main protagonist), Billy the Kid to name a few. In the end, it boils down to one simple fact - the characters behave according to what they know and their innate morality & motivations.

The books are decently paced. I don't recollect any sections being particularly boring or being fast (except when there is some action). The plot does take a while to hit the high gear in terms of the vastness as well as complexity. The first couple of books focus on a 'saving the world' kind of scenario with clear camps of heroes and villains. The latter books expand the scope in terms of actors, blurring the lines between the heroes & villains, as well as the details of the world. So I would suggest sticking around till about the third book to see if you actually like it, rather than giving up in the first or second.

There a few things that could have made this better, though. The title for one - Nicholas Flamel is a catalyst, and his importance reduces as the series progresses. Ideally, the series should have been named around the twins, but I can guess at why Nicholas Flamel was the creative choice. The second reason is the lack of mythologies other the standard ones used by Western authors - Irish, English, Egyptian, Greek with spoonfuls of other more complex ones thrown in. I would have loved to see more of Indian myth (more than the vimanas etc.) or any other myth which is off the beaten path. But these do not take away from the overall positive experience.

In conclusion, I loved the series, and I think this is a good choice for readers of YA/fantasy who also like a healthy dose of myth/legends. The usual YA tropes are minimized and thank all the gods; there is no YA love triangle here.

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