Top critical review
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Disappointing, wasted potential
on 9 July 2013
In a steampunk world of magic and technology, Elle Chance is a feisty airship pilot who is determined not to let being a woman hold her back. But when Elle accepts a job transporting the enigmatic Mr Marsh, she finds herself caught up in a battle between the Warlocks and the Alchemists that will decide not only her own destiny, but the fate of the entire world.
I absolutely adore the steampunk aesthetic, and so when I saw the synopsis of this book, I thought it would be right up my street. And indeed, A Conspiracy of Alchemists gets off to a promising start, bringing us airships, vampires, literal absinthe fairies and magic and technology in equal measure.
Unfortunately, despite this early promise, the book really fails to deliver. This is the author's debut novel, and it definitely has that "first book" feel to it - instead of flowing naturally, the narrative has the feel of someone trying to adjust their style based on advice from a how to write guide, inserting excessive description for the sake of it, or inserting obvious plot devices. Certainly, by about halfway through, reading the book was beginning to feel like hard work.
It's not just a case of unpolished writing, however; the book also fails to live up to its potential when it comes to the plot. Instead of creating a complex and layered world, what we end up with are two fairly bland main characters - Elle, who proves to be far more useless and irritating than she first appeared, and Marsh, the obligatory handsome male lead. Whilst the Alchemists sit back in their chairs and scheme like useless parody villains, the story becomes more about the rather shallow romance between the two main characters than anything else.
Ultimately, A Conspiracy of Alchemists looked promising, but turned out to be a huge disappointment. Admittedly, the plot of the upcoming sequel does sound intriguing, but for me it may well be a case of once bitten, twice shy.