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A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz

Today I'm saying hooray for steampunk! More specifically I'm feeling all loved-up about A Conspiracy of Alchemists.

A Conspiracy of Alchemists: Chronicles of Light and Shadow

Paris, 1903. Eleanor Chase, pilot, walks into a sinister cafe to meet with Patrice, her docking agent. He has an unusual job for her, some unexpected cargo that needs delivering to England. It's all a bit suspicious, but the job pays well and Elle likes to fly. Unfortunately, events very quickly take an unpleasant turn and Elle finds herself in a whole heap of danger.

Elle may not have set out looking for trouble, but once it found her there was no way she was going to back away from it. She's a brilliant character, determined, resourceful, clever and (dare I say) feisty. I adored her. In an age of female fragility she's kicking some serious butt. Her decision to fly illustrates her willingness to flout convention. For her, flying equals freedom, and is essential.

Added to the strong female lead, which I'm pre-disposed to enjoy, is the otherworldly aspect of the novel. Right from the prologue we know we are some place different; a world of fairies and Nightwalkers, Alchemists and Warlocks. The Shadow side exists alongside the rest of the world. Light and shadow are finely balanced - a balance that is becoming more precarious as scientific thought becomes increasingly prevalent. As enlightenment and rational thinking advance ever forward the magic in the world dissipates bit by bit. Elle becomes involved in the battle for magical power, and finds that her part in it may not be a simple case of wrong place wrong time - perhaps it's her destiny.

Oh blimey, there's so much I loved about this story. It's got adventure, magic, a little romantic frisson, and mysteries. Lots of mysteries that take their time to play out. There's cool steampunk technology, brilliantly named characters like Mr Chunk or Mrs Hinges. There's also an absinthe fairy, hitching a lift with Elle and narrating it's own story. I loved not knowing who Elle should trust from one minute to the next. I hoped Mr Chance was a good guy, he's certainly rather dashing, but I felt there was a constantly shifting set of alliances. I had to take my best guess along with Elle. A Conspiracy of Alchemists is the first book in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow, but it is safe to read as a standalone novel. It has a proper ending for this story, although the way is certainly clear for more to come.

I would like to make one criticism. I love the US cover much more than the UK one. The one we have over here puts me in mind of war, which just isn't right. The one below 'feels' like the story to me. I know it's a very subjective business, but as I'd seen the US cover first I was a bit disappointed. Please let me know if you agree or disagree. The cover controversy notwithstanding, thank you so much to Del Rey for letting me read the eARC via Netgalley. I'm looking forward to the second part of The Chronicles of Light and Shadow enormously.

Lovely US cover


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