The Alchemist and the Angel
Jan is apprentice to his uncle, an alchemist, living in Venice in 1583. After losing his parents to the plague, Aunt Greta and Uncle Gustav take him in. His world develops purpose once more, when he helps his uncle in his Cellar of Science to further develop a serum to create life from death. An untimely demise results in Jan moving to the plague ridden city of Prague where he learns about Emperor Rudolph’s court and Cabinet of Curiosities. Here he meets Zuzanna ‘The Angel of the Ghetto’ who holds a secret.
Jan learns a great deal in Prague, including how the lure of power and riches can drive the hand of betrayal.This is an atmospheric book for confident readers who want to be enthralled by a story which delves into the dark side of life and desire. The search for the alchemist’s dream for the ability to change states, whether it is to turn metal to gold or death into life, is an all consuming aim to the scientists of the day. The power such a discovery would bring can be seen as good: healing the sick, creating new life from death or preventing illness. Alternatively, in the hands of the greedy and corrupt it could bring riches, power and domination. The search goes on.
Gothic illustrations and folktales break up the narrative, but add to the complex nature and delight of the book. Whilst following Jan we acquire historic detail and have an insight into the alchemist’s world-view, set against a very graphic account of Prague at the time. The research and detail never detract from the plot, but add to it an extra dimension of fascinating facts. The characters of Jan and Zuzanna are charismatic and believable. Greta is powerful, and Rudolph a tortured, troubled soul. I found this a uniquely appealing read.