fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Martin Booth Soul Stealer Alchemist's SonSoul Stealer by Martin Booth

I have tracked down Soul Stealer, but I must confess that my search for the third book in this series will be even more lethargic than the search for this one. Despite a strong beginning, and excellent use of real history and alchemical knowledge in the shaping of his story, Martin Booth continually fumbles in his melding of ancient and contemporary times.

First, the good components: Booth creates a beautiful setting for his characters; an English countryside full of “autumn leaves, mist over the river, and red antlered stags”. In fact, it reminded me a little of the utterly fantastic Children of Green Knowe series by Lucy Boston, in its dark and dreamy feel. Likewise, though the twins are still a little bland, Pip has made a big improvement in becoming a strong female character (in the previous book she was simply a foil to the boys’ adventures), and Sebastian is as interesting as ever in the failsafe story-plot of an innocent outside his comfort zone.

Likewise, the villains are more interesting this time around; still a little two-dimensional, but with intriguing quirks and motivations: Yoland who is described as “an evil psychiatrist” (and is the soul stealer of the title), and Scrotten, a “wodewose” (a wild boy living feral in the woods) — both of whom are acting undercover in the twins’ new school as teacher and student.

But from this strong beginning come several weaknesses. Booth has always had trouble combining ancient and modern elements, which here results in several weak plot points. One minor issue is the twins enrolling Sebastian in school, somehow undermining the school’s entire registration process, but mostly it is the climax of the story that involves a fieldtrip to a nuclear power plant which sadly makes no sense at all. Characters behave and situations change in whichever way is convenient for the story, resulting in an overblown evil plot that involves nothing less than the devil himself. It’s all a bit much, and does not have the right build-up or basic logic to be carried off.

For me, Soul Stealer was altogether weaker than Doctor Illuminatus, due to this illogical ending. Martin Booth is strongest when he’s dealing with the more intimate interactions between Sebastian, the twins and the various forces of evil; not comic-bookish evil plans. I’m intensely interested by the information that he slides into his story concerning English history and belief, and the basic premise of the story is also intriguing and certainly a lot darker than anything in Harry Potter.

The Alchemist’s Son — (2003-2004) Ages 9-12. Publisher: When Tim and Pip’s family moves to an old English country estate, they accidentally awaken an alchemist’s son, Sebastian, from a centuries-old slumber. But Sebastian’s father’s enemy, Pierre de Loudeac, has also awakened — and is relentlessly pursuing the dream of alchemists to create an homunculus, an artificial human made from dead material. Aided by Sebastian’s wise guidance and insight into six hundred years’ history, the two spirited siblings bravely take action to stop the man’s ominous quest. But even as they daringly defeat de Loudeac in this battle, Evil lives on… All the magic in Dr. Illuminatus is real, the author has noted, the chants, the herbs, the potions, and the equipment. The irresistible combination of history, humor, and horror will keep young readers on the edge of their seats — and anxious for the next installment.

Martin Booth The Alchemist's Son 1. Doctor Illuminatus 2. Soul Stealer fantasy book reviews Martin Booth The Alchemist's Son 1. Doctor Illuminatus 2. Soul Stealer fantasy book reviews


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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