ALCHEMY by Alison Gardiner, Matador, Leics, UK p/b £7.99 (UK) 221 pages, www.troubador.co.uk/matador
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
It is usual for later books in a series to give a hint that there are other stories that lead up to the one you intend to read. At a minimum, it is wise to list other publications at the start of the volume. With Alchemy you come to it cold, but it soon becomes clear that there is something missing. We have Alex, a fourteen-year-old boy, in a place where animals talk and are told that he is English and looking for his missing parents, facts that tend to get lost within the rest of the story. Having said that, this is a book that would clearly appeal to youngsters in the eleven to thirteen age group.
Although we are not told until some time later the reason why, Alex, his hamster and several animals are flying on the backs of winged crocodiles with a wizard on their way to a waterfall. They are actually looking for time tears which might help finding his parents. They get side-tracked by the hunt for Luke, another fourteen-year old, who was captured by goblins after they killed his parents. Like all good books for this age group, the parents have been side-lined. The only adults are two wizards, and one of those, Zorrin, has been ensnared by a sapphire that is turning him from benevolent to evil. Alex and friends, which include a snake, a bear and a monkey, have two tasks. First, they need to save Tariq the bear, who has been turned into a small stone ornament by a gargoyle, then they have to get the sapphire away from Zorrin and dispose of it. To do this they need the help of the Stone Lions and a tribe of armadillos, in particular, Beryl who is very mean-tempered. Beryl and Skoodle the hamster become instant enemies.
Despite the seriousness of the quests, the interplay between the characters is fun, each having their own characteristics. With a relatively large cast, there is no danger of a young reader mixing them up. This is a place where the impossible can happen – like ostriches flying – because the land oozes magic.
There are two things that will hinder this book reaching the right audience. The cover, which would be appropriate on an adult novel, does not indicate that the contents are eminently suitable for pre-teens. The title, too, would put off many readers of this age group as most would not know what it meant. Change those to attract the right audience and this will be enjoyed as a fast-paced, all-action fantasy novel.