NESFA Members' Reviews

The Alchemists' Door

by Lisa Goldstein

Tor, 2003 [2002], ISBN 0-765-30151-2

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

This is the real story of John Dee's trip to Cracow and Prague in the 1580s. Dee and his collaborator Edward Kelley are fleeing a demon whose attention they have attracted in their experiments in angel magic. Initially, they travel with Prince Laski, for whom the angels that only Kelley can see have prophesied that he will be king of Poland. When events do not proceed with the speed that Laski had hope for, and it becomes clear that the demon is still with them, Dee finds it desirable to move his family to Prague, and Kelley again accompanies them. Gradually, Dee realizes that Kelley is more interested in the wealth theoretically available from alchemy (if he can create a philosopher's stone and turn base metal into gold) than in higher knowledge. Even more gradually, he realizes that his wife Jane is right--Kelley is not his friend, and is not to be trusted.

While in Prague, Dee and Kelley are summoned to an audience with Rudolf II, and meets his very first Jew, Rabbi Loew, who has also been summoned for an audience. Dee quickly finds himself in deeper water than he ever imagined, as Rudolf wants both favorable prophecies from the angels, and the wealth that Kelley claims he's on the very point of being able to produce, and further meetings with Loew as well as some of the other seekers of occult knowledge who have gathered in Prague reveal that Dee's demon is merely a symptom of a far greater problem, one that endangers the whole world. There is a door between dimensions, and the door is has swung wide open. If the demons reaching through the door can find one crucial thing and accomplish one crucial task, they can remake this world according to their needs. Dee and Loew, sometimes barely able to communicate across the divide of their beliefs, experience, and prejudices, need to work together to close the door forever.

Most enjoyable.

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