A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz: First Impressions

‘IN A GOLDEN AGE WHERE SPARK REACTORS POWER THE AIRWAY, AND CREATURES OF LIGHT AND SHADOW WALK OPENLY AMONG US, A DEADLY GAME OF ALCHEMISTS AND WARLOCKS HAS BEGUN.

WHEN AN UNUSUAL CARGO DRAGS AIRSHIP-PILOT ELLE CHANCE INTO THE AFFAIRS OF MR MARSH, SHE MUST CONFRONT HER DESTINY AND DO EVERYTHING IN HER POWER TO STOP THE ALCHEMISTS FROM UNLEASHING A MAGICAL APOCALYPSE.’

This is actually the first steampunk novel I have read, or rather started reading, and my first impressions of it are a bit so-so. My opinion of the novel is coming from the opening chapters of the book, and my opinion may change when I finish it, but for now, this is my first impression of Liesel Schwarz’s A Conspiracy of Alchemists.

Steampunk Genre

As I said, this is the first novel I have read in the steampunk genre, but I am thoroughly enjoying this side to the novel. Learning about the steam and water-powered vehicles in this historic setting is a nice touch to the otherwise magical/fantasy plot with its talk of Warlocks and Light and Shadow.

Plot

In my honest opinion, I feel like the novel would have worked just as well without the sprinkling of magical creatures and powers. It hasn’t really added to the story for me. The two sides could have been rival gangs and the box containing really expensive jewellery or artwork. Not as creative but just as effective – hopefully the rest of the novel will prove me wrong.

Other than that, I’m enjoying the plot so far. Schwarz has a way of making what could have been lengthy exposition short and entertaining, be it through character interaction or the mysterious omnipresent voice that appears at the start of every chapter.

The story is keeping to a nice pace; there either some form of progression towards the end goal or a new piece of information found or realised in every chapter. One of the worst thing for me when reading a book is “nothingy chapters” so I’m happy that Schwarz has stayed clear of that. Having said that, the story has yet to match the intensity of the blurb.

Characters

Miss Eleanor “Elle” Chance

The reader’s feelings towards the main character can make or break a novel and Elle has so far made the book for me. She’s not your typical 19th-early 20th-century woman, choosing to smoke cigars with her pilot friend rather than mingle with potential suitors; choosing to learn to fly an aircraft instead of going corset shopping.

Time and time again Elle is made aware of the limitations that come with being female in this historical setting, but she does what she needs to do to get by. She knows that not many people will hire her just because she is a female pilot so she takes odd jobs from her trusted friend Patrice in exchange for jewellery. She also knows to carry weapons around with her to combat sly characters who would think her an easy target.

While stubborn and easily provoked, Elle is a smart character. From her knowledge of steam-powered machinery – the prototype gyrocopter – to her distrust of Marsh and the situation she has put herself in, I love that Elle isn’t completely swept away by the dramatic turn of events.

Her sudden attraction to Marsh, however, is another, more predictable, story.

Mr Marsh Greychester

If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, hell even Dorian Gray, then you’ve already met Marsh. Marsh is your typical male lead: handsome, charismatic, powerful, wealthy, connected – everything a struggling female protagonist wants, if not for his equally cold and calculating demeanour. There is a lot of mystery surrounding his character’s past that I, along with Elle, am keen to uncover.

As the story unfolds, Marsh becomes more and more interested in Elle. He has taken an interest in her past, questioning her about her mother whom she stubbornly refuses to reveal anything about. He also develops an attraction to her unique personality and has already gotten close to fulfilling his most basic desire.

The romance element to the story is slightly predictable but with Elle’s distrust for the man, I’m curious to see how it all pans out.

Patrice

I’m at odds with myself with this guy. I like him because he’s the comedic-yet-cowardly voice of reason in this novel, but I don’t like him because of what I think might happen next in the novel. Either way, keeping Patrice around is good for the story because when he’s around, the levels of sexual tension between the main characters is kept low enough that I can get to grips with the fantasy element of A Conspiracy of Alchemists.

Mrs Mathilda Hinges

This straight-talking, motherly housekeeper who has looked after Elle from a young age has nothing but my love. You can’t help but love her character from the moment she appears in the novel. There isn’t much background to Mrs Hinges other than her relationship with Elle and Elle’s father, but I really do like her character.

Unknown Character

At the beginning of every chapter there is an epigraph, of sorts, from a mysterious omniscient character who hasn’t been named or mentioned yet in the story – to my knowledge. The character tries to give the reader some background on their person, but it all doesn’t quite make sense as of yet. Again, I have my suspicions on who – or what – it is. I just have to keep reading to find out.

All in all, this could be an interesting novel if it doesn’t fall victim to predictability. I hope that Elle continues to hold strong and the fantasy element to the novel has more sway over the story. So far, I’m staying positive.

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