Liesel Schwarz starts off with a bang in A Conspiracy of Alchemists, the first installment of the Chronicles of Light & Shadow. An alternate history tale, Schwarz brings elements of steampunk to her adventure. Readers and non-readers alike will feel at home with the familiar themes and no-frills take.
LEAVE IT TO CHANCE. Eleanor “Elle” Chance, that is—the intrepid heroine of this edgy new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy, historical adventure, and paranormal romance into pure storytelling gold.
In a Golden Age where spark reactors power the airways, 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 the mysterious Mr. Marsh, she must confront her destiny and do everything in her power to stop the Alchemists from unleashing a magical apocalypse.
There are few original or intriguing aspects to A Conspiracy of Alchemists but they can all be found in the first few chapters. The backdrops that Schwarz chooses to unfold her story are effortlessly magical. From opening scenes in Paris with dazzling Absinthe fairies to an eager search amidst the towers of Constantinople, the settings are truly interesting. Though Schwarz infused occasional elements of these great places into her story, she does not go far enough. Instead, these amazing cities feel watered down and occasionally gentrified. With each new city, I couldn’t help but feel there were missed opportunities. I would have much preferred if the protagonist hadn’t traipsed around Europe but been in perhaps two cities so Schwarz could develop essential details into the setting. This frustration continued throughout the book and peaked when the main characters rode on the Orient Express. Considering that this famous train line has played the backdrop to tales of mystery and intrigue, Schwarz’s chapters seem pale in comparison. I wouldn’t compare Schwarz to Agatha Christie but putting that aside, I still found myself increasingly annoyed when any characteristics of trains were left out.
Schwarz shines when she implements the realistic. I genuinely smiled when the protagonist, a female pilot, preferred to be paid through jewelry. Her reasons were sensible- a lack of wanting bills that went through her father and gold which was bulky. These thoughts were exactly what anyone with street smarts dealing with those social barriers would do. Even when people made off color remarks, there was a certain genuine nature to it. When the male lead firsts meets our heroine, he tells her place as a woman and comments how he wishes she would embrace the natural power of women. Agree or disagree with his statement, I was still impressed with how this character naturally came to that conclusion.
Conceptually, A Conspiracy of Alchemists has so much going for it. The reluctant journey to become a powerful Oracle is downright intriguing. Even the opposing factions, Alchemists and Warlocks are interesting in the quest for power through science and power through nature. Unfortunately, Schwarz’s execution leaves much to be desired. The entire journey starts to revolve around the romance between the male and female leads and the adventure falls to the back burner. Many of the plotlines are never entirely fleshed out and Schwarz’s writing style feels more like a stereotypical bad young adult novel- no sex appeal, no action, and a whole lot of boring conversations. The ending adds insult to injury when everything falls conveniently into place as if Schwarz had a word count limit and realized part way through that she was nearing it. This leaves an over simplified ending that by no means shares in the lighthearted charming beginning.
I look forward to seeing how Liesel Schwarz grows as an author because frankly,A Conspiracy of Alchemists was truly underwhelming. With unremarkable and forgettable characters and a tendency to over generalize, there are many reasons readers may prefer to look elsewhere. Schwarz looks to tie too many genres together and unfortunately does none of these well, be it romance or steampunk. If you’re looking to define the word meh feel free to read A Conspiracy of Alchemists. If there is anything it has helped me realize it is the feeling of mediocre execution failing a decent concept.