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Steampunk Review: ‘A Conspiracy of Alchemists’ by Liesel Schwarz

This review may contain minor spoilers.  Couldn’t express my thoughts without them.  Sorry.

Well I finished this book.  I am not sure why I was so determined to do so; I guess the short length played a part in it, and a hatred of not knowing how a story ends played its part to.  I knew the book wasn’t for me, but I kept reading thinking that maybe, despite that, there was something to the book anyway.  I don’t really think there was, the book will fill a niche for some paranormal romance fans I am sure, but there is no crossover here for other steampunk fans to latch on to.

The same common steampunk setting we have seen before; the Victorian age continues onward but with airships!  There is the requisite magic, with some mumbo jumbo about powers of light and shadow explaining it.  Warlocks are the fantasy mages, while alchemist’ are more sciencey (once again Microsoft, it is a word if I say it is!) practitioners of magic.  There are also vampires in the mix, though they have zero real purpose.  And there is a battle going on between all of them.
Elle Chance is a plucky redhead, and she is a feminist!  I mean, she is a suffragist and flies an airship despite her families misgivings and everything.  She says things like ‘I don’t see why we should wait around for some hero on a white horse to help us.”  Ya, she needs help from no one.  She is called in to fly a cargo for a man called March, and he is a jerk.  Doesn’t like the suffragist movement at all.  He is kinda hot though, no, don’t think about that.  And mysterious, and, NO!  Stop thinking like that.

The problems with this book stop and end with Elle, who I never bought her as a character.  She is never once in control of her situation, bouncing around the plot as other characters need her.  Even her big awesome ‘save herself’ finish was the result of age old powers awakening, not a talent or plan she used.  She acts tough; once refusing to do anything else unless she gets the whole story, but choosing to do what Marsh wanted anyway.  And when Marsh threatens to kidnap her and keep her locked up forever, she is pining the way she treated him to get away within a few chapters; after all, he has such a tragic back story!

I lied, there are problems with the book other than Elle.  Marsh goes from loyal to his guild to realizing his love and saying ‘screw them’ in record time.  A villain knows his adversary is in the room during the big finish, and lets them hold an extremely long planning conversation before looking for them.  There are lines like ‘What we need is another Oracle.  That’s what we need.’  A line spoken is well after it is established that EVERYONE knows another oracle is needed.  There is Marsh deciding to leave Elle and checking why a train has stopped, when their adversary was seen on the stations docking platform.  Really?  Why do you think the train stopped?

Part of my dislike of this book is definitely stemmed in the fact that I dislike romance of this variety.  Back in forth ‘I hate you, I might love you’ thinking does nothing for me.  I can’t speak for normal paranormal romance fans in this regard.  But there are so many inconsistencies in the story, so many elements added that don’t affect the plot, and so many characters that defy logic.  But I have to assume people would rather read a book where the main character has some agency.

2 stars.  I won’t go lower because there was obviously enough there for me to finish reading, and I can’t really judge it to other paranormal romance due to reading so little of the genre.

Reading copy provided by publisher.

Note: According to the author, the American review copy contains several lines that were changed and some editing that changed the timeline.  Therefore the quotes I added may not show in the final copy.  I will not be rereading the book to check on that.

Note 2:  I will withdraw this if someone prove me wrong, but for a book with a declared ‘feminist’ as a main character, I do not even think it passes the Bechdal test.  I can’t recall any conversation between Elle and another female in which she wasn’t discussing one of the men around her.

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