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3.9 out of 5 stars37
3.9 out of 5 stars
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When dirigible pilot Elle Chance accepts an unusual cargo in Paris she finds herself in the middle of the deadly war between the Alchemists and the Warlocks.

The Alchemists will stop at nothing to acquire the coveted carmot stone and its key, and Elle must do everything in her power to thwart their diabolical plans.

Embarking on a perilous cross-continental adventure with the mysterious Mr Marsh, Elle is forced to question everything she ever knew about herself to fulfil her destiny and prevent a magical apocalypse...

The first thought that struck me when I finished reading A Conspiracy of Alchemists is that there is a wonderful sense of fun on every page. Liesel Schwarz is certainly skilled when it comes to putting the reader right in the midst of the frenetic, fast placed world she has created. Though things rattle along at breakneck speed, the good news is that for the most part, the character development doesn't suffer because of this (more on that a bit later).

There are reverential nods to many classic adventure stories and I've been trying to figure out the best way to describe this succinctly. The best comparison I can come up with is - imagine a mash up of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with Moonlighting, and just a dash Bulldog Drummond wrapped up in a crispy steampunk-flavoured shell.

The heart of this novel is the relationship between Elle Chance and the enigmatic, and unexpected, new man in her life Mr Hugh Marsh. Schwarz is obviously having a ball when she wrote their interactions, Chance and Marsh do have some marvellous verbal sparring. The constant back and forth between the two is what made the characters for me. Even the descriptions of the pair are wonderfully evocative.

"Mr Marsh had the long elegant fingers of a confidence trickster."

Schwarz also deftly weaves elements from the history of female emancipation into Elle's narrative. Here is an intelligent, independent young woman fighting for the right to be treated as the equal of any man. It's always great to see a strong female protagonist who can give as good as she gets, no helpless damsel's in distress here.

The locations used in the novel all feel suitably steam-punky as well. Events are set at the dawning of the twentieth century and from the bustling streets of Paris and the historic canals of Venice to the markets of Istanbul you get a real sense of scope. There are also some splendid chapters set aboard the Orient Express that are a particular highlight. In a world where steam is still very much king, the opulence of the age and travel by airship or locomotive feels entirely appropriate. Blending these classic locales and modes of transport with a full-on adventure works perfectly. It makes it very easy to picture all the action as it unfolds

My only complaint, and it is relatively minor, is that I think the main villain Eustace Abercrombie feels a bit thin. Ellie and Hugh Marsh are wonderfully realised and it makes Abercrombie come across as two dimensional. There are a couple of moments where his sense of outrage and anger at our heroes seemed palpable, a bit more of that righteous fury would have helped to flesh out his character just a little bit more. When I'm caught up in an awesome adventure story, and in every other respect this is, I want my villains to be properly evil. Not Evil Lite(tm) but fully fledged, utterly without remorse, not someone-you-would-bring-home-to-visit-your-mother EVIL.

That small gripe aside, I can't really fault any novel that takes the time to properly espouse the merits of a decent cup of good coffee, especially when it's a Cappuccino. Overall, Conspiracy of Alchemists is a solid debut that contains more than enough action, adventure and plot to ensure I'll be back for more. I'm looking forward to the sequel, A Clockwork Heart, already. Steam-punk fans would be wise to visit their nearest bibliographic emporium and seek this rather magnificent tome out.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When Elle Chance arrives in Paris to do a job for an old friend, things don't turn out quite as she expects. A locked box of vital importance, a diamond bracelet that won't come off, an absinthe fairy who won't come out of the bracelet and the mysterious Mr Marsh are just the start. Elle isn't sure what she's got herself into, but when people start shooting holes in her airship she knows she doesn't like it.

Elle might be a rational young woman raised in the scientific Light, but the magical Shadow has taken note of her and now things are about to get interesting.

This debut novel is a great steampunk romp. The year is 1903, Paris hums with opium, absinthe and fairies, and Elle flies a dirigible. So far, so steampunk. The atmospheric details are great as the action shifts to Oxford, Venice and Istanbul, and the war between the dodgy alchemists and ruling Council of Warlocks fits beautifully in this setting.

Elle's a clever heroine, forthright and independent. I love how she reacts to Marsh's big revelations and how she (quite rightly) won't have any of it. True, there were times towards the end where I felt she was being unnecessarily obtuse, but it was consistent with her character.

Marsh was a nice mystery, with his slow reveal of identities. He's also charming and noble, with a long history and plenty of hints at a sad past. I liked how his outlook slowly changed as he started to see things from Elle's point of view. And he was never boring.

There are a scattering of other interesting characters too, but this is mostly Elle and Marsh's tale. The setting is rich, the detail is beautifully balanced by the magical elements, and the ending is interesting. After becoming immersed in this world so quickly it was a bit of a wrench to leave it, so I'll be interested to see where part two goes.
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on 25 February 2013
A memorable and refreshing book that earns Schwarz the well-deserved moniker of `Empress of Steampunk'. It also delivers across several genres: romance, action, detective, and a dash of comedy.

As someone who loves to guess what's going to happen several hundred pages before it does, this book hooked me on several levels within the first 15 minutes of reading.
What's in the box that Elle is supposed to be transporting?
Why has she been encouraged to put the bracelet on, and more interestingly, why won't it come off?
What does Mr Marsh really want?
What is the secret no one will tell her about her mother?
There are enough layers in this book to require a rope of farmers' onions to reveal them all.

As I get older and life gets more crowded, it usually takes a couple of weeks to finish a novel. This book made me want to ignore all life's demands and sit and read it at a single sitting, simply because it was so engrossing.

Our journey across Paris, London, Vienna, Venice and Constantinople was visually breathtaking, and would translate brilliantly onto the screen. Liesel Schwarz has managed to combine the romance of The Jewel of the Nile and the action of The Transporter, with the civility and enchantment of War of the Worlds and Sherlock Holmes.

I impatiently await the second book in the series.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I liked this Vine offering and look forward to the next few books from Liesel Schwartz. It is not really Science Fiction, much more closely Fantasy blended with Victorian Steam-punk, almost perhaps as if Philip Pullman was allied with Alan Moore, but with a fresh new twist.

The brief Amazon blurb is surprisingly accurate, and as I hate spoilers it would be a shame to enlarge on it. The quality of Schwartz's writing is generally very good, and my proof copy had very few errors, boding well for the final release. The settings, environment, and main characters are all well depicted, with excellent 'pictures on the insides of my eyelids', and I found myself enjoying being carried along with the pace of the story, even though I usually prefer the hard-science kinds of escapist fiction.

Stepping back from it, it is obviously part of a series and feels decidedly incomplete as a standalone novel, and too many threads are left dangling, which is why for me it has lost a star. I suspect it will be better being re-read as a part of a greater whole when more of the series have been published.
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VINE VOICEon 6 March 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I absolutely loved this novel. I couldn't put it down. The heroine is fantastically well characterised. I thought she was brilliant. The story is fast-paced with wonderful descriptions of the era and locations from London to Vienna with even a couple of mentions of my home town Croydon (how cool is that?). It's got all your typical Steampunk favourites in it from machines to airships to pistols and corsets. I was in my element reading this. The story flows nicely with a satisfactory conclusion and open door for future novels. The fact it's a Chronicles makes me hope there will be MORE because I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and will seek out more books by the author. I liken the story to a Steampunk version of Pride & Prejudice with a bit of Harry Potter, Trueblood and some Twilight thrown in for good measure. Not to be missed. It's a must read for Steampunk fans like me!
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on 1 May 2013
I hadn't read steampunk before but this book caught my eye. After reading the blurb on the story I just had to read it. I was hooked from the very first page and didn't let me go till the end. All the characters were written well. Elle the main character was wonderful very spirited which I loved. What can I say about Marsh? He was brilliant and loved the way he and Elle clashed and you could also feel the attraction there. I fell in love with him too :) The story was non stop and never a dull moment. There were some funny bits as well and never saw the twist coming with one of the characters near the end. Can't wait for the next book in the series and to meet up with Elle and Marsh again. Have pre-ordered it. Thanks to this book I am so in love with Steampunk genere.
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VINE VOICEon 23 May 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For some reason when reading this I had images from Lemony Snickett running through my mind which must be due to an unfamiliarity with this genre.

That said this is a fairly enjoyable book. Beginning in Paris 1903 this is the first in a series which combines this steampunk thing with a deep vein of fantasy. Here is a world of light and shadow, with warlocks and nightwalkers and in the midst of all this, dirigible pilot Elle Chance, trying to earn a living delivering packages and so it begins.

As far as imaginative and quirky novels go this is a good start, with interesting characters and an attention to detail for those (like me) not completely au fait with the genre.
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on 21 October 2013
This was my first ever steampunk book and I didn't know what to expect, but I loved it. It was very exciting and very well written. Liesel Schwarz's descriptions reeled me into the action and settings. I felt part of the story and held my breath several times, I even had a few stomach flips in line with the heroine's too. It was beautifully written and all the descriptions of the machines and how they worked came alive on the page. To top it all, it was very romantic and I felt completely attached to the fantastically rounded characters. I'm looking forward to reading more adventures in the next book of the series.
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It’s 1903. Elle Chance owns an airship called The Water Lily, piloting charters and errands for various clients. When Patrice, an old friend, asks her to transport a wooden box to England off the books, she finds herself caught up in the affairs of the handsome and infuriating Hugh Marsh. Marsh is a warlock and the package pitches Elle straight into the middle of an age-old battle between the warlocks and alchemists (and in turn, the forces of light and shadow).

When alchemists kidnap Elle’s father, they two must put aside their antagonism to search for him. But as their journey takes them to Venice, Vienna and Istanbul, Elle’s deepest family secrets are revealed and she learns truths about herself that she isn’t ready to acknowledge …

Liesel Schwarz’s debut novel mixes steampunk, adventure and romance to so-so effect. The world-building puts an interesting spin on the familiar premise of a battle between good and bad magical creatures in a world where science is in the ascendency. I liked the idea of the alliance between vampires and alchemists but wish that it had been executed beyond clichéd conversations between two-dimensional villains. The spark reactors are fascinating and I enjoyed how Schwarz incorporates the traditional steampunk elements of dirigibles and goggles. Unfortunately the plot and romance elements let it down. Superficially the main driver of the plot is the need to find Elle’s father and recover the wooden box after it’s stolen but the search doesn’t get going until half way through and even then, neither Elle nor Marsh bust a gut. Indeed, Elle seems more bothered about whether she’s in love with Marsh, who ticks every romance male box (arrogant, domineering and yet handsome and noble). I’m not a fan of romances where the female character is shown to be consistently wrong or imperilled, so Schwarz’s writing here didn’t appeal and the reveal that Elle is the magical world’s biggest hope if only she’d accept her destiny made me eye roll. I also found the fairy-narrated sections to be too ham-fisted in their foreshadowing. This is a shame because there’s promise here – Schwarz has clearly researched the period and it’s interesting to see steampunk that dares to leave London. I’m invested enough to want to read the sequel but hope that Schwarz can move past the cliché to stake her own claim on the genre.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Elle is not your average young lady, she isn't interested in ball gowns or finding the perfect husband and would much rather be independent. She loves to fly and ever since training as a dirigible pilot she has enjoyed travelling across Europe in the ship she is so proud of. When she is employed to carry a mysterious item from Paris back to London she suddenly finds herself caught up in a battle between the Alchemists and Warlocks. Both sides are determined to get hold of her cargo and they will stop at nothing to make sure they come out on top. Elle is forced to join forces with her employer Mr Marsh to prevent the end of the world as she knows it but the deeper she is pulled into the upcoming war the more she starts to discover about her own past and realise that her future will never be the same again.

A Conspiracy of Alchemists is a fantastic steampunk adventure story that will take readers on a journey across Europe, taking in Oxford, Paris, Venice and Constantinople by both air and by train. Liesel Schwarz has created a detailed world where the human realm is closely connected to the realm of shadows, a world that is filled with alchemists, warlocks, nightwalkers and even absinthe fairies who live amongst the human population. This was such a fun story to read and you never knew quite what the author would throw at you next which kept me on my toes as I was reading.

Elle was a great character, I love stories about strong women who aren't afraid to stand up for what they believe in. Elle is a woman of science, she loves to learn and as the daughter of a prominent scientist she has inherited his love of physics. She is also very practical and is able to turn her hand to any technical gadget she comes across. One thing she doesn't believe in is magic, she is much more interested in things that she can see and prove with science. She has no interest in the world of alchemists and warlocks until she is dragged into the whole mess against her will. Elle doesn't have much choice other than to work with Marsh but that doesn't mean she is going to blindly put her trust in him, he is going to have to prove himself to her as they get to know each other better. I liked the way that Elle refuses to just accept what she is told, she needs to find ways to prove things for herself and you have to admire the way she so stubbornly clings to her beliefs.

Marsh has to be my favourite though, he is a complex character who has a lot of secrets and it takes a long time for Elle to start to get to the bottom of them (in fact I'm pretty sure he has plenty of surprises still to come as the series continues). The deeper you dig into Marsh's background the more you start to understand why he has such a hard outer shell and why he plays his cards so close to his chest. As he gets to know Elle you really start to see a softer and more protective side to him and I loved the slowly developing romance between them.

The romance is just a small part of the story though and the plot is focused on the animosity between the alchemists and the warlocks. I loved the detailed descriptions of the various settings throughout the book, it was easy to picture yourself flying alongside Elle and Marsh in her dirigible or sitting next to them on the Orient Express but it was the towns that the author brings vibrantly to life. Although I'm glad to learn that this is the start of a series I'm happy to say that the story did work well as a stand alone. I'm sick to death of series that end on such major cliffhangers that you don't even feel like you've read the whole book so it was nice to see an ending so well handled. If you enjoy steampunk or fantasy stories then I'm sure you're going to love A Conspiracy of Alchemists, it's an impressive debut and has left me excited to read more from Liesel Schwarz in the future.
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