The Apprentices, by Maile Meloy, begins two years after the end of The Apothecary. It's 1954, with the threat of atomic warfare (a bit part of the first book) hanging over the world...but Janie, now 16, is distracted by other things. Like getting expelled from school on a false charge. Like Benjamin, the companion of her first magical adventure who she hasn't seen since it ended, finding a way to communicate with her through alchemical telepathy. Like being kidnapped, and held prisoner by a power-hungry millionaire who wants alchemical help developing new weapons of mass destruction.
Benjamin, in the meantime, has been spending his teen years in the jungles of Asia-- his idealist father, the Alchemist of book 1, is devoting his life to tending the victims of war. But when Janie is kidnapped, he heads off to to the Pacific island where she's being held, travelling in the form of a bird. And basically everyone else who played a role in the first book converges on this island, to confront the bad guys and free Janie.
After the slowish start of Janie's school difficulties, it's all very adventurous. But I liked the mundane beginning--the chemistry experiment, the school dynamics, etc.--much more than the magical happenings, and unfortunately the book as a whole didn't work that well for me, for a variety of reasons.
The story is told from the multiple view points of the various characters travelling around the world. There were some episodes that I felt didn't move the story forward much at all, and some that just seemed like awkward story telling, like a surprising chapter from the point of view of one of the bad guys at the end. Because many of these points of view weren't those of the primary young characters, I had trouble sustaining any emotional connection to Janie and Benjamin. And this disconnected was exacerbated by the fact that the kids, Janie in particular, didn't play quite as much
of a role in the resolution of the plot as I'd been expecting--there was
adult intervention that felt a bit like a swiz.
I could also have done without the encounter with Pacific Island cannibals (of a "now we'll boil the white person in a stew pot!") which seemed like an unnecessary and unpleasant cliche.
So no, not one I loved, and indeed, The Apothecary wasn't either. But lots of people did like The Apothecary lots, and mine is the first unenthusiastic take on The Apprentices, so if you are the exciting magical adventure type, don't be put off by my opinion!
For instance, here's another review at A Reader of Fictions
And here's what Kirkus said.
Note on age of reader: the main young characters are now teenagers, and there is some developing romance. It's perfectly suitable, though, for kids as young as ten or so.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher