Letters of Recommendation for Oric and the Alchemist’s Key

Review/recommendation – Anne K. Wheeler

Oric and The Alchemist’s Key has a strong, well-told story line and language that is rich and evocative of the medieval period in which the story is set. This effectively draws the reader in and puts the book into the ‘unputdownable’ class

The main character, Oric, is an impish fourteen year old boy with an intriguing quest. He is helped and hindered by a cast of well-drawn characters, both engaging and beautifully nasty. The antics and predicaments of each individual are often hilarious and sometimes life threatening. Lesley “Wilson has the ability to make her readers laugh and cry.

The author has researched her subject thoroughly. Living conditions, clothing, herbs, habits and customs are accurately drawn and evoke colourful images of life in the period. Her descriptions of the wild life and natural environment transport the reader to be part of the moment.

Although the book is directed at the young adult market, reading the story afforded me (as a much older adult) considerable enjoyment. I believe the genre will appeal to anyone who enjoys a fast moving, medieval romp and guarantee a wide readership.

Review/recommendation – Evelyn Kontic
(Primary School Teacher. Retired)

I enjoyed being transported back to Medieval Britain in Book One of the Oric series.

Oric and the Alchemist’s Key contains a memorable collection of characters, some good, and some evil. Each chapter is filled with a page turning mixture of action, mystery and humour.

In my opinion Lesley Wilson’s writing will appeal to readers of all ages who enjoy historical fiction.

Letter of recommendation

Oric and the Alchemist’s Key is a very accomplished novel for young adults. There is a smoothness to the flow of the prose that makes for an enjoyable reading experience, regardless of age. Combined with this, a broad spectrum of strong and well-drawn characters, and especially plot will keep young-adult readers right in the thick of the intrigue until the very last line.

The story moves along at a lively pace, and while there is plenty of incident – something is always happening to engage the interest – things never feel rushed.  There is a very effective modulation between faster and slower scenes, which is what good storytelling is all about.

The narrative is ably assisted by its intricate plot, which is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the manuscript. Right from the opening page, we are immersed in a very different world (yet made familiar through the characters and their relationships), and we accompany Oric on his varied adventures as he tries to uncover the mystery of the bequeathed key – and performs many good deeds in the process. The plot features numerous spicy ingredients: boy suddenly and tragically alone in the world, boy finds a new home and master, boy meets girl, boy acquires healing powers and gets a proper foothold in the world. To counter-balance Oric’s enduring journey, there is no shortage of nasty villains lurking in the shadows and the forests, plotting the demise of all who stand in their way. There is also a strong animal presence in the story – chiefly in the form of a cat, a dog, and a donkey – as befits a time when man and beast lived in close proximity.

The lead-up to the ultimate battle at the Keep is excellent, as is that climactic set piece itself. And the ending is very satisfying: the villains are thwarted in their devious plans; Oric has risen in the world and has proved his valour yet again. And all is well with Ichtheus and Dian. In short, the good are rewarded the bad suffer. The ‘moral’ here is sound – violence, theft and nastiness don’t pay – and is reinforced by the contrasting trajectories of Oric and Guwain, who is to the manor born; the former, in his virtue, grows both in himself and in society; while the latter, in his vice, does a disservice to both his elevated position and his family. The twists in the plot inspire strong themes that are most appropriate for the envisaged readership; growing up/coming of age, adventure, emerging adolescent love, the importance of living virtuously, courage and honour in word and deed, and the value of a warm mentoring relationship.

And leaving things open-ended on the last page, with the arch-villain living to scheme again, is entirely as it should be. Readers will be eager for Book Two.

The story also taps a rich vein in terms of its apothecary theme; what’s old is new again (in the sense that many people use such herbal remedies today), so this is a topical element in the manuscript. Readers are likely to respond to this, too, in terms of it being a source of wonder in nature.

The characterisation at work in the story is also very effective. New characters are introduced at good intervals, so we’re never overwhelmed by questions of ‘who’s who’.

The core trio of Oric, Ichtheus and Dian are all very strong presences. The two Adolescents are good models for boy and girl readers to identify with (and perhaps feel a bit attracted to); and Ichtheus is a very likeable, appealing character: the older man, wise yet funny in his ways, generous of heart and fair of mind. He’s a bit like the familiar figure of the wise magician; and while Ichtheus does work some magic of sorts, the fact that he does not have supernatural powers only adds to his humanity.

Moreover, the very engaging dynamic between Oric and Dian is a joy to read, and is sure to appeal to readers of similar ages.

The author’s use of language is another real strength of the manuscript – the period terminology and the precision of the naming of everyday objects brings the medieval word vividly to life. Readers will be introduced to some (but not too many) new words, which is appropriate for young adults, who should be learning some new terms when they read a book.

In a nutshell, the author displays a thorough understanding of both the world her story is set in, and the mind-set and concerns of her envisaged readers. Oric deserves a wide audience, and is sure to engage those lucky enough to experience it.