75 Book Challenge · Books · Reviews

A Conspiracy Of Alchemists by Leisel Schwarz ~ A Review

A Conspiracy Of Alchemists (The Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1) by Leisel Schwarz

Published: Del Ray (UK), 5th March 2013

Length: 352 pages (ebook edition)

Where Did I Get It? I recieved an eBook copy for review from NetGalley.

Summary (From Goodreads):

LEAVE IT TO CHANCE. Eleanor “Elle” Chance, that is—a high-flying dirigible pilot with a taste for adventure and the heroine of this edgy new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy, steampunk, and paranormal romance into pure storytelling gold.

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 spellcasting 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.

Opening Line:

This was the place where people came to give their souls to the fairies.


My Review:

A Conspiracy Of Alchemists was, for me, a very frustrating read. I was actually quite looking forward to it because it seemed to contain everything I love in a book – a strong female lead, a touch of fantasy, a dash of paranormal and supernatural creatures, mystery, magic, a bit of romance, deception, intrigue and fairies.

It should have been my perfect match, I should be raving about its awesomeness and how desperately I want to read book two. But it missed the mark somewhere along the way and left me a bit flat.

One of the reasons for this was the main character, Eleanor ‘Elle’ Chance. At first I loved her because she was feisty and confident and knew what she wanted at the same time as being as naturally emotional as any girl is. She wore trousers in a time when women almost always wore skirts because it was more practical, she flew airships despite it being ‘a man’s job’. She was sassy with just a touch of sensitivity that could leave her vulnerable and break down her defenses – the perfect lead for a Steampunk adventure.

Then someone told her to go get dressed for dinner and she turned into a limp lettuce leaf who followed all the rules with barely a hint of complaint. There was a vague ‘I don’t have many dresses because I don’t like them’ but mostly she converted to compliant Edwardian woman without a blink of an eye.

If she had done as sshe was bid but had resented it, I would have been fine, but it was like someone flicked a switch and she became everything she was previously claiming to hate. As the book progressed I was disappointed to discover that she slid steadily further away from the sassy character she had seemed at the beginning and became more flighty, subserviant girl than anything. She was stubborn to a fault, which is a perfectly acceptable character trait except for the fact that it seemed forced, just to push the story along and drag things out.

Hugh Marsh, the secondary main character, however, was a bit lovely. I enjoyed his charming and mysterious character and he developed through the book in a satisfying way both as you learned more about him and as he adapted to his situation. Marsh was easily my favourite thing about A Conspiracy Of Alchemists and without him I think I would have struggled to keep reading.

I wasn’t sure about the fairy. By the end of the book, her part became clear but at the start her random interludes were just confusing and irritating. I feel that she could have been written into the story in a much nicer way – just as part of everything, rather than having her own random sections at the start of the odd chapter. It felt shoehorned in, as if the author was trying to point out ‘Look! Fairies!’ rather than add to the story. I would have preferred her character to be blended into the main text – not to make her less important but instead to make her feel more like an integral part of the story, rather than an add-on.

The end of the book was susbstantially better than the beginning or the middle – I almost wanted to read book two when I finished because of it. However, had I not felt obliged to read it for this review, I’d probably have given up at about 30% through because I was fed up of Elle and how slowly everything seemed to be going.

That doesn’t mean nothing happened, on the contrary a lot of things happened, but Elle’s fickle character and narrative style made me feel somehow detatched. I didn’t really care when most of the ‘big’ events happened which made it a drag to read.

As I said, it did improve, and overall the story was actually quite good – it was just the exectution of the writing that let it down.

Things weren’t helped by the fact that I was reading an uncorrected proof copy that was very heavy on the ‘uncorrected’ side. It was as if it hadn’t been read through by anyone ever – not even the author. I haven’t yet seen a corrected proof to know if everything was cleared up, but I sincerely hope it has else the piece will be plagued by repetition, continuity issues everywhere and bad punctuation. I am assuming it all got fixed, otherwise it deserves to lose at least one star off its final rating.

My Rating: 3.5/5*

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