- TITLE: A Conspiracy of Alchemists (Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1)
- AUTHOR: Liesel Schwarz
- PUBLISHER: Del Rey
- PUBLICATION DATE: 7th Februrary (UK)
- RATING: ★★★★★
A Conspiracy of Alchemists is my first steampunk novel. I’m pleased to say it was a good choice to begin with. Requested on a whim via NetGalley, I clicked through the eARC and within minutes I was hooked. There’s something different about this story and whatever it is, it makes it a definite winner.
In a world where the Light and the Shadow realms weave and melt into the real world, where absinthe fairies and Nightwalkers mix with Alchemists, and human Warlocks live for centuries, the balance is tipping with the growing use and power of spark and science. There is great power locked away in the Shadow realm but as the Light grows stronger and logic and reason banish its hold, draining its power, the power of all who rely on the darker realm ebbs away to nothingness.
To Elle, this is no concern. She is a perfectly normal young woman merely going about her business, which just happens to be flying her own small freight service craft and studying physics. She lives for flying and sure, she might not be cut out for the regular married life of her peers—in fact, although she was educated in etiquette and even débuted, her heart was scarcely in it—but she is still an exceedingly normal woman with no need to concern herself with the mysterious box that has landed in her hands, the absinthe fairy in the café she’s meeting at, or the presence of Nightwalkers and Warlocks. Nothing of this is her concern.
Until it does concern her—and those closest to her. Then, of course, she needs to reassess and put aside all the logical thoughts and rationality that comes from the Light and embrace the Shadow that runs deep in her family. And then there’s Marsh, who never quite seems to tell her the truth, yet doesn’t really lie to her either. He is a conundrum—a handsome one, at that—and Elle simply isn’t sure what to do. Under normal circumstances, she would follow her instincts… but since all this started, they’re not quite what they used to be. Something is changing in her and she’s not sure what it is… It might have something to do with her lineage and the strange bracelet that won’t come off… and yet surely not? She’s a sensible, normal girl and that’s that.
The darker beings of the Shadow realm don’t seem to agree, however. Elle is in serious trouble and those after her do not necessarily need her consent to use her for their ends. With or without her consent, things are set to change.
Of course, being the daughter of a genius scientist does have its perks and Elle is definitely not without her wiles, feminine or otherwise. She is a bright young lady and she will not go quietly—whatever it is these people have planned. If she has a destiny, then she will jolly well choose which parts of it she will accept and those that will have to merely jump off the next dirigible.
A Conspiracy of Alchemists is an adventure of a story that never stops. It is full of intrigue and excitement that constantly twists and turns, all whilst offering charm, wit and humour. It is an urban fantasy for the 1900s complete with all the right elements of romance that make for one excellently good story.
As far as the genre goes, I can’t judge, since it’s my first steampunk novel or even my first with any steampunk sensibilities. Even so, I don’t need to be an avid reader of steampunk to know that this is a great story that keeps fun at its heart yet still manages to be completely unputdownable. It is as pacy as the setting calls for—imagine that the 1900s setting makes for a wholly different pace than a modern fantasy—and is completely compelling and intriguing.
Elle is just brilliant. It’s always good to have a strong female who is balanced out by a great guy; it makes for more enjoyable reading, especially for me. She doesn’t try too hard to be a tough girl—it is naturally a part of who she is and it is balanced out with realistic vulnerability that makes her so likeable. She is just fantastic and born for the setting and the story she occupies. The same can be said for Marsh, who is a perfectly roguish gentleman with a soft squishy side beneath all that charm, wit and hidden steel.
Overall, I was surprised by this story. It was good. I will wholeheartedly admit that whilst I prefer the US (I think?) cover, the hot pink font did almost put me off. Preconceptions about gender stereotypes are sometimes hard to get rid of, and a cover splashed with hot pink (this looks more red, but honestly, on NetGalley it’s shockingly pink!) does sort of give a wrong idea in relation to precisely just what sort of book A Conspiracy of Alchemists is. On the other hand, the UK cover also gives a completely wrong impression of the book, taking away Elle’s other side—her classy, sassiness—replacing it with the expected colours and images associated with steampunk.
But, a cover’s a cover and either way, this is a five-star book that I like to think of as period urban fantasy. It is a brilliant, imaginative story that paves the way for an excellent series that evidently has a lot more still to offer.
Awesome, fun and just plain cool, you need to give this book a chance.