The Alchemist’s Door

Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 3, 2004

The Alchemist’s Door by Lisa Goldstein

Ten people attended this discussion and two others phoned or emailed comments. Nine people started the book, eight finished it, and six had read the author before.

The collaboration between John Dee and Edward Kelly already seems the stuff of a fantasy novel: Kelly converses with “angels” he sees in a gazing ball owned by Dee. The two curry favor from royalty by offering to predict the future. To this Goldstein mixes in the story of Rabbi Lowe and his creation of the Golem. Plus: demons, insane rulers, a serial killer and a race to prevent the world from being destroyed.

Despite the historical base, knowledge of Dee’s life and the Golem myth weren’t required to enjoy the book. Those who were familiar with the historical foundation thought it was a good exploration of Dee’s twin obsessions: his family and thirst for knowledge. The author got points from us for realism and even more points since “…she never made the reader suffer for her research.” Information was revealed through character interaction rather than lectures. In fact, the book was so well researched that one reader argued this book was historical fiction rather than fantasy as it accurately portrayed Prague with a population that believed in magic.

The group found this a refreshing change from “door-stop fantasies”-huge volumes that go on and on with uninvolved characters. One person described the book as “pretty close to well written.” The author tended to string pronouns together causing readers to lose track of who was the speaker. Granted, the conversations were very complex, and people do tend to string pronouns when they talk.

One reader wanted to book to be darker, especially the scenes with the Countess Bathory. A more Kafka-esque mood was suggested, countered with perhaps the reader really was looking for a “Hammer Films” style. Continuing our monster theme, we discussed mixing the golem myth with Shelley’s Frankenstein since this golem wanted to be learn to read and be free to marry and be normal.

There are no books all of us like. For other readers, Dee was too unsympathetic a character and “fairly clueless.” The machinations of the story went on too long with no enough payoff.

The group has read and enjoyed Goldstein’s books before and were happy to add this to the list. We’ll gladly pick up her new books as well. Afterwards several people had dinner at Chili’s.

–Judy Strange