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Book Review

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A Conspiracy of Alchemists
The Chronicles of Light and Shadow (Hardback)


Author: Liesel Schwarz
Del Rey
RRP: £15.99, US $25.00
ISBN: 978 0 091 94986 0
Available 07 February 2013

Elle Chance is an adventuress by nature plying her trade flying cargo in her own small craft. Educated and entered into the mysteries of being a debutante, her feelings of obligations to her chosen place in society is slight, her practical mind would rather study science in a world where science and magic coexist. When she takes on a new job and Mr Marsh, Elle soon discovers that the balance between science and magic is shifting in her world, as more people turn to science the power which supports the alchemists and warlocks is waning and not everybody is happy with the situation. Elle finds herself flying into a clash which may unleash the apocalypse...

A Conspiracy of Alchemists is the first novel in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow by new novelist Liesel Schwarz.

It’s a brave writer who decides to mash science and fantasy in a historical context without the fear of alienating a large portion of the prospective audience, by adding so many elements, the book had the potential of losing focus by adding too many elements. What carries the novel is the central character of Elle, a wonderfully rounded, believable heroine, with whom it is easy to empathise, due to the skill with which she is written.

Elle roots the story in its own believable reality as does the intricate way Schwarz has constructed her version of the beginning of the twentieth century, complete with absinthe fairies and nightwalkers, adding supernatural aspects to a steampunk story.

The combination makes for a distinctive read, made so much better by Schwarz’s undoubted skill as a writer and story teller, creating a world of richly layered environments. Placing the whole thing in a recognisable version of the early twentieth century gives the reader of historical fiction a rock from which to explore this strange new world.

Although Elle is eminently practical in outlook, something she inherited from her father, it does not stop the supernatural powers from using her in their scheme to turn back the tide of science, the very science to which Elle is committed.

The book takes no time in cracking on with the adventure as Elle’s dirigible is hired to transport cargo from Paris to England, with only one catch, she has to look after a small wooden box for a couple of hours. Her initial hesitancy is proved correct when an attempt is made to abduct and kill her for it. From this point on the book maintains its cracking pace making for a very satisfactory adventure story.

I’m not really sure what else you could ask from a novel: believable characters, an engrossing plot, written by a capable author. Even though this is not a genre which I would personally choose to read, I found the experience highly enjoyable and look forward to the next novel in the series.


Charles Packer

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