A Conspiracy of Alchemists: Book One in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow
by Liesel Schwarz
Cover Artist: Nekro
Review by Gayle Surrette
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345545077
Date: 05 March 2013 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The story takes place in 1903, in what appears to be a steampunk/clockwork world crossed with magic. Eleanor "Elle" Chance is pilot-owner of a dirigible and carries small loads for a few clients. It's difficult for her to get jobs because, as you'd expect, being a woman doesn't get you much respect in this world.
Elle is offered a job by a repeat client, Patrice, to carry a small box from Paris to England for Viscount Greychester. Elle is a bit cautious because Patrice's jobs are never simple and asking her to meet him at a seedy absinthe/opium house didn't bode well for her. He insists on giving her a bracelet and clamping it on her wrist before she can protest. This is followed quickly by an absinthe fairy bonding with the bracelet making it impossible to remove, an attempted abduction or robbery, and an attempted hijacking of her ship. She barely manages to depart by skipping all the paperwork -- after all criminals are shooting at her ship. Aloft, she discovers some damage that's going to make the crossing chancy and she had two unintended passengers.
This sets up a marvelous adventure where Elle and Marsh, a wizard, must thwart an attempt by alchemists to gain more magical powers and to take over the world. It becomes a race to find Elle's father, a famous scientist taken by the alchemists, surprising discoveries about her family history, and learning to rely on his own instincts and abilities. There's also a minor romantic thread.
The characters are interesting with backstory that gives them depth and texture. The world is well developed including some interesting political structures. All in all it's a great start to a new series, The Chronicles of Light and Shadow.