The Book of the Alchemist by Adam Williams

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The Book of the Alchemist by Adam Williams

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Milli Pithie
Reviewed by Milli Pithie
Summary: A good story told with average ability.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: November 2009
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN: 978-0340899137

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The Book of the Alchemist is a story within a story. It opens in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War. Pinzon, a Spanish politician who resigns for moral reasons, is taken hostage by a group of Republican soldiers, along with his young Grandson. A group of villagers are also taken captive and locked in a cathedral as part of the soldiers' desperate plan to protect themselves from the Fascist forces that are hunting them. A cavernous mosque built inside the mountain under the cathedral's crypt is discovered, and in it, a book. As Pinzon reads the book, another story unfolds, set in the eleventh century. This is the story of Samuel the Jew.

It's a story which seems to tick all the boxes; love, friendship, mystery, war, history and tragedy. It doesn't sound groundbreaking but it certainly sounds like jolly good fun. And, to a certain extent, it is an enjoyable read. When you get past the fragmented beginning which seems to skip past a series of important events and at times threatens to become a history lesson, you reach the part of interest. It kicks off with a cold blooded shooting or two to get you hooked and then a group of hostages are herded into a cathedral and things start to look promising. It is a good story, touching and tragic in parts, and no doubt a lot of people will enjoy it, yet something never quite sits right.

Firstly, the speech never feels natural, and as a result, the characters feel contrived and even irritating. Secondly, the narrative voice is often too authoritarian, 'telling' us rather than 'showing' us. I like to be left to decide what I think of a character, not be told who is noble, who is selfish, who is a good leader and who is cruel.

Unfortunately, it just doesn't do itself justice. The good parts are hindered by stiff speech or hurried through, and it takes a long time for sympathy to develop towards the characters, despite their terrible situations. Nevertheless, if you love a good story but aren't so bothered about writing style, then you will probably really enjoy this book. Personally, I wouldn't buy it for its recommended retail price, although you get your money's worth in length. I also suggest briefly researching the Spanish Civil war before reading this.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you like this you will love The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Buy The Book of the Alchemist by Adam Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of the Alchemist by Adam Williams at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Book of the Alchemist by Adam Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of the Alchemist by Adam Williams at Amazon.com.


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