Book Review: A Conspiracy of Alchemists

conspiracy of alchemists A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz
Publisher: Del Rey
Date: March 5, 2013
Genre: Steampunk/Urban Fantasy
Series: The Chronicles of Light and Shadow
My rating: Vacation by the beach
e-ARC provided by Edelweiss

A Conspiracy of Alchemists follows Elle Chance, female dirigible pilot in an alternate early 20th century. In this world, alchemists and warlocks subtly grapple for the limited magical power that remains. Vampires and alchemists are allies, and absinthe fairies are sustained only by alcohol, preferably absinthe. Light – technology, science, and reason – is echoed and opposed by Shadow, the magical forces and beings in the world.

The novel opens with a new commission for Elle, who is given a mysterious fair by her friend and client in Paris. This box, unknown to Elle, is coveted by the alchemists and warlocks both. Before she even reaches her dirigible for the commissioned trip to London, she becomes embroiled in the chaos surrounding the Shadow power struggle.

The prologue is narrated in first person by an absinthe fairy, who plays a secondary role as the plot moves along. It is abrupt and bluntly foreshadowing. I found the fairy-narrated interludes more distracting than anything else, although they did provide contextual information about the plot.

The plot is very fast-paced and action-packed, beginning from the opening of the first chapter and continuing throughout the book. It includes a romantic development, international travel (in dirigibles, trains, and the first-ever ‘copter). I couldn’t put it down.

I enjoyed the characters. Except for the occasional jarring note (there is no explanation of why Marsh goes from hating beautiful women to being in love with Elle, and Elle’s development as the Oracle could have been give more space), they were believable and well-drawn. I especially liked Elle’s determined, flying in the face of convention attitude toward achieving her dream of flying. Marsh is a solid hero, and although done before, Elle’s absentminded, genius father is delightful.

The world-building is good, for the most part. I found the conspiracy unmemorable, and the descriptions of some of the magical events (especially the ending) were sketchy. Sometimes the different magical elements didn’t seem to mesh very well. Overall the world is a very interesting, unique take on steampunk alternate histories, and I look forward to discovering more about the world and the magical rules in the next volume.

I will definitely read the next one, especially hoping to find out more about the laws of this universe, and what happens next. This is a great entry into the paranormal/urban fantasy/steampunk/alternate history mesh of genres, and fans of Gail Carriger and Meljean Brook should be delighted.


For a really great series that ties clockwork gadgetry into epic fantasy and multiple worlds, with a dash of light romance, I highly recommend “The Fall of Ile-Rien” series by Martha Wells:

The Wizard Hunters (The Fall of Ile-Rien #1)

For a similar read with a Wild West twist and slightly more romance, check out:

Native Star (Veneficas Americana #1)

If you like a lot of romance and a few racy scenes with your steampunk, try:

The Iron Duke (The Iron Seas #1)


One comment

  1. Vacation reads are always good. I picked up White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy by Paul Mark Tag to take on our recent trip to Glacier Nat’l Park…great book, just not a vacation read, I almost missed my vacay getting caught up in it! The info here, this one looks to be a better pick to read on my quick trip to the coast in Aug! Thanks for the review!

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