Steampunk C

Conspiracy – a secret plan or agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal or subversive act

Conspiracy theories abound. I actually mentioned one on Monday, that aliens crash-landed in Roswell and the US military covered it up. Some folks think Princess Diana was killed by MI6 at the orders of a member of the Royal Family. Others are convinced NASA faked the moon landings. More recently, the 9/11 attacks sparked all sorts of conspiracies, from the US government had prior warning of the attacks but did not do enough to stop them to the government being active in the destruction of the towers, that the airliners couldn’t have brought them down alone, and the US air force was deliberately stood down or sent on exercises.

And then there are some conspiracies that actually turned out to be true. First on the list, of course, is Watergate, when Republican officials spied on the Democratic National Headquarters from the Watergate Hotel in 1972. While conspiracy theories suggested underhanded  dealings were taking place, it wasn’t until 1974 that White House tape recordings linked President Nixon to the break-in and forced him to resign. Or the Iran-Contra Affair, when the White House authorized government officials to secretly trade weapons with the Israeli government in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages in Iran in 1985 and ’86. The plot was uncovered by Congress in 1987.

In A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz, alchemists and nighwalkers (vampires) are conspiring to more or less take over the world.

a conspiracy of alchemists

Title: A Conspiracy of Alchemists (The Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1)

Author: Liesel Schwarz

Category: Steampunk Fantasy

Published: March 5, 2013

Rating: 3½ out of 5 stars

Add: Goodreads

Purchase: Amazon | IndieBound | Book Depository

It is 1903, and the world is divided between light and shadow. On the side of light is a wondrous science that has transformed everyday life by harnessing magical energies to ingenious new technologies. But each advance of science has come at the expense of shadow—the traditional realm of the supernatural.

Now two ancient powers are preparing to strike back. Blood-sucking immortal Nightwalkers and their spellcasting Alchemist allies have a plan to cover the whole world in shadow. All they require is the sacrifice of a certain young woman whose past conceals a dangerous secret.

But when they come after Elle, they get more than they bargained for. This enterprising young woman, the daughter of a scientific genius, has reserves of bravery and determination that even she scarcely suspects. Now she is about to meet her match in more ways than one: a handsome yet infuriating Warlock named Hugh Marsh, whose agenda is as suspect as his charms are annoyingly irresistible.

I’ve been on a bit of a mystery kick lately and this adventure, paranormal romance was a fantastic break. It was just fun. It’s a little uneven, parts drag, the romance is a bit predictable, but it was a joy. It grabbed me from the first page when an absinthe fairy first meets Elle and tells us, “I was her for what she was, this young woman with the clear blue eyes and hair like the leaves of the horse chestnut when the season turns. I saw that she would one day cast no shadow on the narrow path between Shadow and Light. Isn’t it strange how not even pure iron can stay events once they have been set in motion? I knew from the moment I saw her she would offer salvation. But salvation often comes at a price.”

The world is a fascinating mix of fantasy and steampunk, with dirigibles and fairies, gyrocopters and vampires. It came alive for me. I could picture the monks lighting the lamps with the prostitutes on the corner, the passengers on the Orient Express in all their finery. In this world, Light and Shadow form a kind of shaky balance and I thought it seemed appropriate that as science advanced, the Shadow lost some of its power.

Elle is a good character, although I wish she hadn’t spent so much of the story basically as a hostage. She doesn’t have much control over what happens to her, which is necessary to the plot but I think overlooks some of her strengths. Marsh I like, but I tend to like sexy, mysterious men, at least in fiction.

It’s a fluff book, but one I really liked. Even though it’s the first in the series, I didn’t feel like it was all a set-up for what comes next. It has a solid ending, with just a strand left open for future danger and adventure. I’m looking forward to the next, to see how Marsh and Elle’s relationship develop and how Elle deals with her new powers/responsibilities.

The Chronicles of Light and Shadow

  1. A Conspiracy of Alchemists
  2. A Clockwork Heart (expected August 2013)