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Doctor Illuminatus: The Alchemist's Son Part I    by Martin Booth order for
Doctor Illuminatus
by Martin Booth
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2006 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I knew I'd enjoy Doctor Illuminatus when I read Eoin Colfer's 'I love this book' on the front cover. The story begins in a familiar fashion, as a family moves into an old (very old actually) English country house, called Rawne Barton, with knocking in its walls that only the children hear. But then the tale diverges into something quite unique, 'Alchemy', which the author reminds us 'was the chemistry of the Middle Ages'.

The siblings themselves are interesting contrasts - Pip is open while Tim avoids straight answers, and she loves gardening while he enjoys computer games. The source of the mansion's spooky noises turns out to be an 'Alchemist's Son' named Sebastian Rawne. Sebastian tells them he was born in the time of King Henry the Fifth of England. He has hibernated through the centuries, waking when necessary to fight an ongoing battle with his family's enemy, an evil alchemist named Pierre de Loudéac. The latter is working towards the creation and control of a 'homunculus', an artificial human - 'a creature of infinite malevolence'.

Weaved into the adventure is a wealth of fascinating information from 'ha-has' (old landscaping features) and British history to science facts. Though Sebastian knows how to freeze time, create illusions, and travel to parallel universes, he needs help, and Pip and Tim immediately sign on. This leads to several confrontations with the enemy and his agents, including a blackbird, a 'maelstrom of insects', and a tornado. Hippies, 'the Moonbeamers', who are camping nearby, are also pulled into action that moves quickly from adventure to horror, before it reaches a crescendo in an old quarry.

Though they prevent de Loudéac from achieving his objective this time, the game's still afoot, and Sebastian tells Pip and Tim that 'evil itself cannot be eradicated ... For there to be light, there must be darkness.' I look forward to more battles against darkness in the next book in the series, Soul Stealer.

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