Title: A Conspiracy of Alchemists
Book One in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow
Author: Liesel Schwarz
Publisher: Del Rey, Random House Publishing Group
Genre: Steampunk romance
I loved this book. It had everything I need for an enjoyable read, a plucky heroine, a handsome warlock with an air of mystery, a cute small helper—in this case a fairy—and a great story full of action, intrigue and surprises.
How well we like the characters often makes the difference between liking and loving a book, and the characters in this were the kind I love. Elle wasn’t going to let anyone push her around, or wait for a rescue that might never come. Her stubbornness was both a flaw and a strength. Hugh—handsome, of course—was charming and somewhat conflicted about where his allegiances lay, until the end when it became obvious. Instead of the usual powerful hero, he was a man whose power, like all the warlocks in this story, was on the wane. This gave him a vulnerability that he had to work around, but he showed us that even as an ordinary man, he was highly resourceful.
Secondary characters were also delightful. Elle’s housekeeper was a beautifully rendered character as was her father, though we only met him briefly, and the fairy’s perspective added a unique and charming touch. The Nightwalker Elle meets on the train was another terrific character and I hope we get to see more of her in future books in the series.
The concept of the book, the balance between the worlds of light and shadow, and the role of the Oracle in maintaining that balance was interesting, if not entirely comprehensible. It wove ancient history into this alternate steampunk reality where shadow creatures (warlocks, fairies, vampires etc) are recognised by the general population and live within normal society.
Ms Schwarz writes well, but I do wish that the major publishers would save their ARCs (I got this one through Netgalley) until they have been copy edited. I get sick of the errors that, though we are assured will not be in the final publication, make the book feel tacky. The structure and pacing are excellent, however as is the quality of the prose. The descriptions of the ‘otherworld’ experiences were highly evocative.
The end is everything I wanted, and the epilogue opened the story up for another installment. I certainly could do with seeing more of Elle and Hugh.
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It is 1903, and the world is divided between light and shadow. On the side of light is a wondrous science that has transformed everyday life by harnessing magical energies to ingenious new technologies. But each advance of science has come at the expense of shadow—the traditional realm of the supernatural.
Now two ancient powers are preparing to strike back. Blood-sucking immortal Nightwalkers and their spell-casting Alchemist allies have a plan to cover the whole world in shadow. All they require is the sacrifice of a certain young woman whose past conceals a dangerous secret.
But when they come after Elle, they get more than they bargained for. This enterprising young woman, the daughter of a scientific genius, has reserves of bravery and determination that even she scarcely suspects. Now she is about to meet her match in more ways than one: a handsome yet infuriating Warlock named Hugh Marsh, whose agenda is as suspect as his charms are annoyingly irresistible.
Liesel Schwarz is a lifelong fan of nineteenth-century Gothic literature. She is also a hopeless romantic who loves Victorians, steampunk, fairies, fantasy monsters, the fin de siecle, and the correct way to drink absinthe. She also likes medieval things, pirates, zombies, space operas, and all subjects in between.