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The Alchemist's Door [Hardcover]

Lisa Goldstein
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 3 2002
Scientist, mathematician, and court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee is also one of the sixteenth-century's most renowned alchemists, driven by a passion to fathom the elemental secrets of the cosmos. But when his reckless assistant, Edward Kelley, succeeds in using a crystal sphere to summon angels, Dee is catapulted into an awesome struggle that may extinguish the light of reason forever.

One of the spirits invoked is a cunning demon who takes possession of Dee's young daughter, Katherine, and shows Dee a frightening vision of his own future. Terrified by what has been foretold, Dee abruptly decides to close his house in London and flee to Europe with his long-suffering wife, Jane, and their two young children.

Their desperate flight brings them at last to the city of Prague--a center of culture, knowledge, and learning, both sacred and profane, a gateway between the Eastern and Western worlds, and also, it is whispered, a door between our world and the world of the spirits.

There, in the city's ancient streets, Dee encounters the mystic Rabbi Judah Loew, who enlists his aid in the creation of a Golem--a man fashioned from the clay--to defend the city's Jewish Quarter from persecution. And he asks Dee's help to avert a impending crisis that threatens to engulf the world. For ancient legends say that the fate of the world rests on shoulders of thirty-six righteous men. And if one of those righteous men dies before his time, the world will end and dark spirits will remake it in their own image.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The legend of the golem, an increasingly popular piece of Jewish folklore, and an obscure portion of medieval history come to intriguing life in this supernatural thriller from American Book Award-winner Goldstein (The Red Magician; Dark Cities Underground). Ambitious 16th-century (real-life) English alchemist John Dee and his associate, Edward Kelley, summon spirits to learn the nature of the world, but are unprepared when a demon answers their spells instead and threatens Dee's family. Hoping to escape, Dee and his family travel with Kelley to Prague, where they plan to ask the patronage of eccentric King Rudolf. In Prague, Dee meets Rabbi Judah Loew, who seek to learn the identity of Jewish legend's 36 righteous men, whose very existence protects the world from being remade by evil. Unfortunately, influenced by Kelley, Rudolf thinks that if he can find those righteous men and kill them, he will be able to remake the world to his own specifications. After escaping Rudolf's prison, Dee and Loew build a man of clay, a golem, to protect Prague's Jewish quarter from the king's soldiers, only to find once again that summoned powers can be hard to handle safely. In order to defeat evil, both men will first have to weigh their own magical abilities and realize that the power to create is merely the other side of the power to destroy. Although Goldstein's story has a tendency to meander all over the map, diluting her strong message about the cost of power and pride, Dee and Loew's search for truth makes for a telling morality tale.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In the last years of the 16th century, Dr. John Dee, astrologer and alchemist to Elizabeth I, leaves England for the furthest reaches of Europe, in hopes of escaping a conjured demon intent on destroying his life and career. In Prague, Dee meets with the esteemed Rabbi Loew. Despite their differences in religion and social class, the two men embark on a mystical quest for the last righteous man, knowing that if they fail, the world will fall under the sway of darkness. The author of The Red Magician and Dark Cities Underground spins a luminous tale of a meeting that never was but might have been. Meticulous research, pristine storytelling, and Goldstein's genuine affection for her characters make this historical fantasy a priority purchase for most libraries.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Just Plain Bad Sept. 13 2003
Just plain bad. There are thirty-six righteous men upholding earth and reality and everything else. If one of them dies before his time, the world ends. Well, it doesn´¿t really end, it just gets remade by a demon, or a greedy king who . . . or a rabbi. No, I guess it could be remade by anyone who happens to be there. Where? Not sure. Thing is, Lisa Goldstein doesn´¿t know either.
Goldstein seems to have hacked her way through this novel without thinking things through first. The finished product offered barely more cohesion and enjoyment than would a rough draft. Shame on Goldstein for not polishing this haggard piece, and a pox on TOR for publishing such poorly written work.
Some very important points were either overlooked or ignored. Take the thirty-six righteous dudes, for instance. No one knows who they are, not even themselves. But the Big Bad King is looking for one of them to kill so he can become the new Master of the Universe, or whatever. So he´¿s got a list of about six or seven of them. Where did he get this list? He got it from a bunch of scientist-types who sat around one day in a bar and just sort of came up with it. Off the top of their heads. ... They guessed, and the book admits as much. Now, the King wants to kill the thirty-sixth righteous dude. Not the twenty-eighth or the seventeenth or the ninth. The THIRTY-SIXTH. What difference does it make? Just snag one of them, cut his head off, and be the new god. Or whatever. So a major plotline is the good guys trying to find the thirty-sixth righteous dude before the Bad King gets him. Nevermind the thirty-five others ready and waiting to be killed.
I just can´¿t get over this thirty-six righteous men plotline.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Bad history, mediocre fantasy... Aug. 9 2003
While trying to weave a believable story the author added a whole bunch of historical figures some of which were completely redundant (Erzsebet). I will not even go to all the little weird historical "info" the author shoved into the story (rather than "woven"), such as Dee's introduction to Coffee and to Tea. I wont dare to ask if the author really believes that a man who worked in Queen Elizabeth's palace for many years was not familiar at all with these drinks...
Both the character of Dee and of Rabbi Loew were described in a very unreliable manner. Does the author truly believe that Rabbi Loew, a genius of his time, spoke only German, Czech and Hebrew? In Goldstein's world the Maharal (as Loew is commonly known) does not speak nor understand Latin and his scholarly knowledge is quite limited even though the historical figure was a renaissance man. Dee on the other hand looses complete contact with his historical figure, as he is portrait almost as a Harry Potter minus the wand, striding about with incantations for opening doors and breaking windows.
Instead of feeling drawn into an authentic world of the Occult and complicated ceremonial magic one witnesses Dee's Harry-Potter-like incantations, which really ruin any chance of taking the book seriously. Loew too talks about magic as if it is something completely ordinary without any kind of reference to the problems arising in Jewish culture around these issues. Loew's magic is considered Kabbalah, but what about Dee's? How can Loew wander around with his spell casting Harry-Potter friend without any referral to the source of his powers?
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3.0 out of 5 stars Ho-Hum Nov. 18 2002
"The Alchemist's Door," takes what should be an exciting story and through the lack of detail that brings prose to life end up rather ho-hum. It's a story of alchemy, Kabbala, demon possession, shape-shifters, vampires, and the attributes of a "just man," told as a search-mystery; with locations various - Prague, London, Translyvania - but with little but the story to pull the reader into the magic that is, supposedly, all about. Not only are action and locale left sketchy, but characters are somewhat vague as well. Though we're given broad outlines no one but Magdelana, a horribly abused young woman desirous of knowledge, appealed on an emotional level. I was left with the impression this novel was written a bit too quickly, and the author's decision to sacrifice detail showed either a lack of research, or a lack of interest. I was looking for a good read in the fantasy genre, but got a sketch instead.
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