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Randolph Sontime--mysterious, rich, powerful, charismatic--walks one day into the office of New York psychiatrist
Anne Kramer and confesses, casually, to the brutal murder the press has dubbed "the crime of the century"
(exactly who has been murdered isn't clear at this early point in the book). He tells Anne she must understand
why he committed the crime. First, though, she must know who he really is.
Thus begins a fantastic tale of ancient magics, of love, obsession and betrayal. Millennia ago in Egypt, Sontime
was Han, a young man chosen for education in the mystical House of Ra, repository of all the arcane wisdom of the
world and training ground for all the world's Practitioners. There Han meets Nefar, a beautiful young woman, and
Akan, a studious young man. Each is individually gifted, but together they are much more--a triad of power whose
like has never been known before. Their pursuit of this union, and of the forbidden secrets of the House of Ra,
transforms them in unimaginable ways, but also unleashes tragedy and ruin. Determined, in atonement, to use their
magic only for good, they create a work of sorcery intended to change the world--but the triadic unity that's the
basis of their power is torn by jealousy and ambition, and things go terribly wrong.
Meanwhile, around the edges of Sontime's narrative, questions hover: whom did he murder? For what purpose? And
why has he chosen Ann Kramer to hear his story?
Not really fantasy, not quite horror, and not exactly romance (the book is written by an experienced romance writer,
and listed by Ballantine in its romance catalogue, but its striking non-romance cover signals a bid for crossover
readership), The Alchemist ventures deep into Anne Rice territory, with its melancholy protagonist, its
lush dark atmosphere, and its sensuously-worded narrative, not to mention its immortals and its roots in ancient
Egypt. But Boyd separates herself from Rice-ism in the economy of her tale, and in her interestingly different
take on the Egyptian angle, which convincingly re-interprets, in supernatural terms, a somewhat mysterious area
of real-world history. The triad of Han, Nefar, and Akan is compelling, both in unity and in separation, as is
the theme of alchemy that runs through the story--the alchemy of magical transmutation, the alchemy of spiritual
transformation. And Han is unusually convincing as an immortal character, with his cool sardonic distance, and
his meditations on the boredom of eternal life and the frailty of memory.
Some readers may find the book too short: the major encounters are richly detailed, but the transitions are brief,
with whole millennia disposed of in a few paragraphs. Too, the final section is predictable (there's a twist, which
the astute reader will perceive well before it arrives), and experienced fantasy readers will likely find that
the magic that plays such a large part in driving the plot is too vaguely drawn to be convincing. Nevertheless,
this is an intriguing start to a new supernatural series, and offers interesting possibilities for continuation.
Copyright © 2002 Victoria Strauss
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