Alchemy by Margaret Mahy

Title: Alchemy
Author: Margaret Mahy
Series : No, this is a stand alone book


In Short:
Roland is on top of his world. Roland is barely hanging on. He hangs out with the in-crowd. His sleep is haunted by dreams, and by day he hears voices. He is in control.  He is being blackmailed. His girlfriend is Chris – the most popular, sexiest girl in the school. But he cannot get loner girl Jess Ferret out of his thoughts.


What I thought. Margaret Mahy can do no wrong.   Most of her books that I have read are about teenagers, and the psychic energies let loose as they change from self-absorbed children to self-aware adults.  It is never clear what is reality and what is fantasy – and in fact, there is no difference.  Magic is not strange, just a natural extension of the general weirdness of life.  She has her own take on Magic Realism.

At first, Roland seems to be the opposite of the standard fantasy protagonist.  He is one of the cool kids, always ready with a clever quip to charm a teacher into submission.  He is arrogant, self satisfied and tries as hard as he can not to stand out. But there is something very strange about Roland.  He has recurrent dreams that must be based on memory, except that they are so fantastical that cannot be possible.  He is always accompanied by a voice urging him always to be careful, to watch out, to hide.

His carefully constructed world of cool friends, sexy girlfriend and future scholarships is endangered when a teacher blackmails him.  But the task that the blackmailer demands in payment for his silence, is very peculiar.  Roland has to spy on Jess Ferret, the loner, the outsider girl.  At first, Roland simply wonders how he can get himself safely out of this dilemma.  But as he learns more about Jess, he starts becoming intrigued on his own behalf.  What is it about Jess Ferret?  What is her great secret?

I loved Jess.  She is any geek girls heroine.  She seems unconcerned about her appearance – she is awkward, pimply,  hides behind her hair.  But she also specialises in quirky verbal games and is not intimidated by the super cool Roland.  And when you least expect it, she unexpectedly transforms into something entirely different.  Here she loses her temper at Roland:

“Get out!”  She shouted.  “Get out!”

In her own way, she was transformed once more – transformed with rage, and with more than rage.  She had stopped pretending to be someone that she wasn’t and he now understood she did every day at school.  There was nothing of that slightly dull, dogged Weaselly-Ferret presence.  Her hair stood out around her face like tongues of black fire; her lips were parted as if she were about to pronounce a spell; just for a moment Roland thought she might charge into him and then out the other side like the invading creature she so resembled.  However, Jess was not a creature.  Her fury was human fury.

Margaret Mahy is excellent at these sudden switches between very solid normality and the world of dream and spirit.  This is a coming of age book  – it reminded me very much of The Tricksters and Memory both of which I loved.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Diana
    Sep 04, 2010 @ 03:31:09

    WOW! i luv this book its my favorite 🙂

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