A Conspiracy of Alchemists
by Liesel Schwarz
Recommended Ages: 14+
Elle Chance is a woman ahead of her time in a steampunk Edwardian era, operating her own airship freight service. She isn't ready to accept that she also has a destiny on the "shadow" side of reality, where fairies, warlocks, alchemists, and nightwalkers (i.e. vampires) roam. But actually, everything magical hinges on her, as she gradually learns after her mad-inventor father is kidnapped by a cabal of alchemists and nightwalkers. Reluctantly, she must turn for help to the Viscount Greychester, a.k.a. the warlock Hugh Marsh, an infuriating individual who has already maneuvered her far outside her comfort zone.
Together, the two travel by eye-poppingly improbable modes from Oxford to Constantinople, on the trail of Professor Chance. Along the way, they fall in love, have a falling out, and become separated by a plot that endangers the entire world. Elle must quickly learn to use the powers that flow through her, making her the turning point of the alchemists' conspiracy; meanwhile, Marsh risks his neck in a city where magic is outlawed to find the woman he loves.
It all comes together in a very satisfying example of everything that makes steampunk fiction fun. It has nefarious villains, romantic tension, supernatural jeopardy, betrayals, conflicting agendas, and unbelievably cheesy technology based on an amalgam of steam power and a kind of magic called Spark (related, I suppose, to the concept of "aether" that so often plays a role in this branch of literature). According to the author's note at the end of the book, some of these unbelievable gadgets actually existed, at least on paper, in approximately the period of history that comes in for the trademarked combination of paranormal paranoia, abusive social satire, retro-futuristic re-imagining, and shamelessly sentimental nostalgia that is, in a word, steampunk.
This is the first book in the "Chronicles of Light and Shadow" trilogy that also includes the titles A Clockwork Heart and Sky Pirates, all by a U.K.-based author who says she especially likes Gothic romances. My review is based on the audio-book read by Amy McFadden.