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review 2018-11-01 21:17
The Alchemist's Illusion (The Accidental Alchemist #3) by Gigi Pandian
The Accidental Alchemist - Gigi Pandian

Zoe Faust has lived for centuries as an alchemist, wandering the world to hide who she is. But since arriving in Portland and with her new housemate, Dorian the immortal living gargoyle, she’s starting to put down roots, make friends and even a family.

 

But one of the cornerstones of her wandering is that her old friend and mentor, the alchemist Nicholas Flamel, abandoned her. Now she learns he may have been imprisoned over the centuries - centuries waiting for her to rescue him. She has to act, even under the shadow of a suspicious death and through some very shady art dealing



This series probably epitomises “cozy mystery”. It’s not action packed. It’s not full of death defying feats and we don’t even have a huge amount of scary tension - albeit still with a few to maintain the stakes and not remove from the fact it is a murder mystery

 

That’s not because it’s boring - far from it - but because it’s story doesn’t rest on blood fizzing and massive drama even while we still have carefully maintained threads. It’s not a book that nails you to your seat, but it is a book you can coil up in your seat and relax

 

I really like how Zoe and co manage to be pulled into the murders of this series. A lot of the time with cozy mysteries it’s a little weird how we get these protagonists involved in the mystery - and why the police even tolerate their presence - or why they don’t mind their own business, especially when Zoe has such a big secret to keep - her immortality and, therefore, fraudulent identity.

 

But by linking the murders to Alchemy and, more importantly, giving the characters a mystery that is more relevant to them (the abduction of the famed Alchemist, Nicholas Flamel) we get a  lot more personalised motive to actually get involved in the mystery. At times it seems odd compared to the rest of the genre - because there’s a murder and Zoe & co all seem far more interested finding a painting which may lead them to Nicholas than they are about the dead man. It almost feels callous - until you remember just how ridiculous it is for the man in the street to decide to just muscle their way into a police investigation (especially lacking appropriate investigative skills despite Dorian’s enthusiasm). Instead they involve themselves where they should be and where they are the most invested and where they have the relevant skills

 

Zoe and Tobias struggle with protecting their secret identities and have a very good reason to avoid police scrutiny with them being decades or hundreds of years old and Tobias’s identity definitely frays around the edges. This book also follows on the previous two books of Zoe trying to put down roots, make friends and have an actual home. We saw this building over the last two books and this time it grows further - but Tobias is a walking warning as to how hard that can be, newly bereaved after the death of his wife, grieving but having to desperately do so in secret or at least hiding the identity of who his elderly wife was. Zoe herself is opening her life considerably - with old friends coming back, with Tobias present and with her secret being known by more people, Zoe’s life is changing a lot. But how much in her control and how much safely is still to be seen. Zoe is definitely launching into a very uncertain future.

 

 

I do like how the age of these characters factors in - we have Zoe’s suspicion, inability to necessarily connect with modern technology along with her many memories that interspace the story. We have Tobias and his history as an escaped slave and the scars he still lives with. Even subtle elements like Dorian not accepting the idea that a teenager is a child and shouldn’t be treated as an adult or assume the dangers as an adult. We also have some really interesting flashbacks which address alchemy, art - but also class and gender as well.

 

This all combines with some really beautiful writing about art (which I found fascinating despite my general disinterest in art) and a general artful pacing which managed to not be full of action and tension but is still compelling and interesting and fun to follow.

 

Tobias is a Black man as well as Zoe’s old friend and fellow Alchemist with different skills. What I like especially is not only is he a prominent Black character and a clear and valued friend of Zoe’s but he also doesn’t always follow her lead, will sometimes do his own thing and will often not feel the need to consult or otherwise work with Zoe when pursuing his own leads. We also have more expansion of Max’s role, Zoe’s boyfriend and an Asian man, including his very excellent mother and sister. What is less ideal is that these two women actually feel far more fleshed out than Max himself. I get that Max loves Zoe… I get that Zoe loves Max and I get that Max is moderate sceptical when it comes to the supernatural. But that’s kind of all I know about him and it feels like he’s still a blank slate. I feel more connected to the new female detective who teamed up with Zoe and was more than a little awesome.

 

There are no LGBTQ characters

 

This series continues to be fun. It’s an amusing read with great characters and a really original concept - from the sentient gargoyle to the very idea of basing the series on alchemy. Having a supernatural system with very little in the way of overt magic but a more subtle low key use of power - and on the third book we are opening up new directions of investigating, widening the series which I think is very necessary when a book series begins to develop. I look forward to see where this develops from here. I’m still following this series and enjoying it immensely

 

 

Read More

 

 

Source: www.fangsforthefantasy.com/2018/10/the-alchemists-illusion-accidental.html
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review 2018-09-23 20:47
We did the mash, we did the monster mash. Up.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss

This book was sort of adorable. The main character is Mary Jekyll, daughter of Dr. Jekyll. Over the course of the book she goes broke, learns her father's secrets, teams up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, saves the life of Justine Frankenstein and solves the Ripper murders.

 

The Strange Case of the Alchemists Daughter was a mash up of so many Victorian early sci fi classics, name checking The Island of Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Dracula (both Dr. Seward and Renfield make an appearance) and the short story Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It's almost too much, and I think that much that is enjoyable about the book would be lost on readers who are unfamiliar with the classics that provide the undergirding for the story.

 

I am not a Holmes purist, so I was fine with the addition of Holmes and Watson, although I don't think that their presence really added that much to the story. I would've preferred for the lady monsters to do all of their own mystery solving.

 

The conceit behind the book is beguiling, at least to me, although I'm not sure that the author's execution was as good as her idea. Some of the communications between the characters, breaking the fourth wall, were a bit distracting. I did like the asides about dress reform and women's suffrage, though.

 

Overall, this is a solid 3 1/2 stars for me, and I have already got a hold on the sequel, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman.

 

I read this book for the Supernatural square, although it would also fit: Gothic, Darkest London, Amateur Sleuth, Murder Most Foul, and Deadlands, 

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review 2018-07-20 18:31
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss

This book throws a mixture of literary classics at you with quite the unusual twist. We go on a murder mystery adventure with Sherlock Holmes, Watson (which sold me on this book right from the start), and Dr. Jekyll's daughter Mary, who stumbles upon Diana the daughter of Hyde, who may or may not be her sister. We are eventually introduced to a slew of monstrous women who are linked to the likes of Frankenstein, Rappaccini and Moreau.

The story is told in their own words, each of the women attempt to write their own parts of the story, which we are constantly reminded by their sporadic, humorous dialog throughout the book. Mostly arguing over inaccuracies and veering completely off topic at times.

This was a fun book and I loved the friendship and the family dynamic between the "monstrous" women. I did however have a few issues with it. Holmes didn't quite feel authentically Sherlock to me. Only once did he wow with his skills of deduction and it was to get a boat ride and not to solve any mysteries.

The story is a bit slow with all the action happening toward the end. The grand climax has them solving the case, however, I was disappointed to finish the book and not have my questions answered. After the grand climax the story continues on, but it's mostly just to set up the next book. Mary even has the opportunity to find out what really happened to her father in the past, but instead she decides she's just not in the mood and will find out later. She lets the opportunity slip away because later doesn't come, at least not in this book!

Despite my frustrations, I did mostly enjoy the book. This is the first of 3 books (I believe) so I'm sure all the answers will come eventually. The girls are off to rescue the daughter of Van Helsing in book 2, but if Mary keeps bringing home every stray monstrosity she can find, she's going to need a bigger house soon!

 

 

-Shey

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text 2018-05-25 23:57
Fantasy Flights May Meeting - Nebulas
Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss
A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar
Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor
China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh
Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny
All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak

Every month, I go to a book club that meets at a local taproom. Rather than reading a specific book, each month has a theme. May's theme was the Nebula Awards because, well, they are awarded in May. The Nebulas are one of those awards I've always been vaguely aware of from stickers on books, though I do enjoy Ceridwen's Blogging the Nebulas posts. I was a bit surprised to see how many previous nominees I'd read. I had to cull down to just a handful of recommendations. 

 

Here's what I ended up bringing from this year's ballot:

 

Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty. I wanted to read something on topic for the month, so I compared this year's Nebula and Hugo nominees. The overlap included Six Wakes, which I hadn't read yet, and is published by Orbit. The Hugo voter packet includes whatever publishers provide, and Orbit has traditionally included excerpts of nominees, not full books. Strategery! Turns out, I liked it quite a bit. 

 

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss. I read this one last year, and abso-fucking-lutly loved it. Great characters in an interesting concept, and there's a sequel out really soon. I was so happy to see it on an awards ballot. I won an auction for a signed copy that arrived a day before our May meeting.

 

I also decided, like I had when our theme was the Hugos, to bring some of my favorite losers. The awards hadn't been announced when we met, so I didn't even know my first two picks had lost. I would have brought Stone Sky, but I've rec'd to this group before. But here are some real losers:

 

A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar.  I adored this beautifully written fantasy novel about a book nerd's misadventures. The not-sequel is also amazing. Samatar's prose is just wonderful. My copy of this was signed here in Alabama, at a lecture she was giving MFA students in Tuscaloosa. Because if a master of the genre is going to make an appearance in my state, I can be a little late to work the next morning. Oh, since I'm late posting this, I can link to her recent AMA. This book lost to Ancillary Justice in 2014. But it did win a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, and a Crawford Award. Samatar also won the Campbell Award for best new writer. Her blog has since become private, so I can't link to her post about the WFA, but more on that in the next book.

 

Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor. My copy of this is technically a gift for my niece. I got it signed at Worldcon in Chicago. She's almost old enough to read  it. This is a different indictment/celebration of fantasy than Samatar's, but no less powerful or wonderfully written. It lost to Blackout/All Clear in 2011, and I can't even. It did win a Kindred, and a World Fantasy Award that year, sparking an essay that eventually resulted in a redesign of the award statue 5 years later.

 

China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh. I read this so long ago I don't have a review for it. It combines a vast scope with a well done character study. McHugh has done a lot of outstanding work, and this is no exception. This lost to Doomsday Book in 1993, but won a Lambda, Locus, and Tiptree.

 

Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny. This is one of those books that starts off firmly a fantasy, but reveals itself as science fiction, and the author is a poet. One of my favorite books. My current not for load copy is the leather bound Eaton Press edition. In addition to being a piece of goddamned art, this book was the cheesy sci-fi novel used as cover for the Canadian Caper, aka, the CIA operation in Argo. It lost to The Einstein Intersection in 1968, but won a Hugo that year.

 

All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak. Simak wrote at least three versions of alien invasions that followed roughly the same plot. This is the best one. A small town finds itself cut off from the outside world and some purple flowers are revealed to be extraterrestrials. Creepy and weird, it's worth a read if you're visiting that era of scifi. It lost to Dune in 1966, making it one of the first losers.

 

Next month's theme is Urban Fantasy.

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review 2018-03-18 17:47
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Land of Sand (book, vol. 1) by Makoto Inoue, original concept by Hiromu Arakawa, translated by Alexander O. Smith with Rich Amtower
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Land of Sand - Makoto Inoue,Alexander O. Smith,Hiromu Arakawa

This volume is composed of two stories. The primary one is "The Land of Sand." The shorter bonus story is "The Phantom of Warehouse 13." Both of these stories were adapted into episodes in the original anime series.

"The Land of Sand":

Edward and Alphonse arrive at the dying former gold mining town of Xenotime and are shocked to learn that two boys who say their names are Edward and Alphonse Elric have been living in Xenotime for a while, researching how to make a Philosopher's Stone in order to revitalize the town. Who are these imposters, and how close are they to finishing their research?

This wasn't bad, like bland but reasonably well-written fanfic. It's been a while since I watched the anime adaptation of this, but I remembered liking that more than this story. Ed and Al seemed to be pretty accurately depicted (although I've never thought of Al as being "bronze-hued" (14)), but the text did have occasional clunky moments. There were times when I could tell that the humor would probably work on-screen but was a bit awkward and weird on-page, like the time Ed and Russell transitioned from a physical battle to a verbal one.

One thing I really liked about this story was the "little brother" aspect. Both Al and Fletcher were the level-headed younger brothers, but whereas Al could talk to his brother and expect to be listened to, Fletcher was afraid to tell his brother what he was really thinking. I loved the scenes where Al and Fletcher bonded, and watching Fletcher slowly become more confident was nice.

I didn't see anything that contradicted anything I recalled from the manga (although it's been ages since I last read any of that). I agree with those who wondered why Ed didn't just pull out his State Alchemist pocket watch to prove his identity, though. I suppose you could argue that the Xenotime townsfolk were so convinced that their Edward and Alphonse were real that even that wouldn't have swayed them, but it was still a bit odd that he didn't even give it a shot.

"The Phantom of Warehouse 13":

Colonel Roy Mustang gets roped into helping his men investigate reports of nighttime ghostly activity near Warehouse 13. Several people said they heard sounds of digging and weeping. Since Warehouse 13 doesn't exist, Roy is pretty sure everything's happening near Warehouse B. He's determined to get to the bottom of it all before Eastern Command becomes both a laughing stock and a tourist attraction.

This story was goofy and ridiculous, and I enjoyed it anyway. It made no effort to even pretend that it might advance anything in the overall Fullmetal Alchemist storyline. Roy Mustang, Fuery, Havoc, Falman, and Breda were like a group of little boys taking part in a sleepover and scaring each other silly with ghost stories.

I couldn't tell whether the ending was predictable or whether I just remembered too much of the anime episode. Either way, this was a fun bit of fluff.

All in all, this volume was a quick and relatively decent read.

Extras:

  • One full-page color illustration and several black-and-white illustrations created by Hiromu Arakawa.
  • A couple pages of sketches - Fletcher and Russell, plus Ed imagining how tall and suave he'll be at age 19. Also, a 4-panel comic about the planning stages for the book that's a bit horrifying if you know what happens to Maes Hughes in the series. Poor Makoto Inoue.
  • A 3-page afterword written by Makoto Inoue.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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