'The Alchemists of Barbal'
by David Clement-Davies
Subtitled: "Mardak's Dark Star is Rising..."
This book caught my attention in my local library when helping my son to choose a book for his summer reading project. The book is sub-titled 'Mardak's Dark Star is rising..." Well, Mardak is clearly a reference to the Babylonian god Marduk, and that deity is directly related to the Dark Star. Take into account the interest in Alchemy and this looked like a very intriguing book indeed. Was the author presenting Dark Star Theory material to a younger audience through the medium of fantasy fiction? I needed to find out.
This is a book full of action and adventure, set in the Middle East. Names of countries, cites and deities have been altered slightly, and magic has been introduced into the milieu. But it's easy enough to recognise real places, names and traditions from the Levant. Arabian learning and its Alchemical traditions is given a good introduction, and this book represents a good brew of ideas from ancient times. You might consider it to be a short course on comparative religion of the ancient Middle East, wrapped up in an exciting adventure and aimed at a Harry Potter-style audience.
I looked for a direct reference to the Dark Star, our Sun's tiny companion, but in fact there was perhaps just one, towards the end of the book, as 'Mardak' is carried away by a flying demon. Instead, the book concentrated on the clash of religion and science, faith and reason. The author presented the case that God is to be found in the grey areas where the two disciplines meet, a Yin/Yang philosophy seemingly aimed at fermenting ideas in the more enquiring teenage mind. Indeed, this was quite a thought-provoking - even intellectual - book, disguised in the form of pure fantasy adventure. Philosophical debate was never too far from the surface, probing moral relativism and the advent of scientific enquiry. Not bad really, in that regard, although I found the actual narrative itself rather too far-fetched.
Book review by Andy Lloyd, 1st August 2006
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