On probation for his computer hacking abilities, a young American becomes an alchemist and discovers his powers are far greater and more mysterious than he could have imagined.
Combining the mythological weight of Highlander with the pop-cultural magic of the Harry Potter series, this novel is as much about the wizardry inside the laboratory as it is about the centuries-old weights of family and responsibility. Ian Lloyd is a somewhat introverted teen who, after losing his leg in an accident, spends the majority of his life online and in his room. On probation after he’s busted for hacking, he begins to develop a social life and other interests, including a steady girlfriend, and has a chance encounter with a seemingly hippie-flavored alchemy demonstration. Fascinated by the process of alchemy, he signs up for more in-depth classes just as his mother gets sick and dies. Alchemy, however, is more than just a distracting hobby; almost immediately, Ian begins to manifest amazing objects by following the whims of his “talent,” exceeding the abilities of his fellow students and teacher. Soon after, Ian creates a genuine “Philosopher’s Stone,” and a mysterious fellow named Cagliostro shows up after class, and Ian discovers his own true destiny is equal parts glamour and danger. With an intriguing mythology, a gripping opening and believably flawed yet lovable characters, Haakenson’s book is equally grounded in reality and mystical fantasy. The idea of the philosophers’ stone ingeniously fits in this context, as it elegantly explores how family can be both a hindrance and a loving aide to anyone with exceptional imagination and ability. Although the prose is straightforward, it is never slack, and dialogue elegantly advances the story: “But the curtains. Why did they put them up if they don’t know about the stone?” Ian asks. “I told Stanley that you are doing blind research,” Cagliostro tells him. “He put the curtains up to protect everyone else if things go wrong for you.” Ian’s personal travails in love, both the romantic and familial kinds, flesh out his humanity, making him a relatable and slightly power-hungry hero.
With a deliciously complex back story and relatable emotional qualms, this mystical tale pairs the best elements of fantasy with the tender resonance of a coming-of-age story.