Zoe Faust, alchemist, herbalist and semi-immortal, has stopped her long years of wandering across America to finally settle in her new home in Portland. She’s finally ready to set down some roots and let go of the pain of the past.
But her fresh start wasn’t intended to include a stow-away gargoyle in her storage crates. Dorian needs an alchemist, desperately, as his body is turning back to stone and only a studious alchemist can reverse that if they can interpret the book he has…
…which is then stolen at the same time as a murder victim is dumped on her porch. Not exactly the most welcoming of homewarmings.
We have a lot of original elements to this book which first drew me to it. The whole use of Alchemy, a form of magic that has very little in the way of flashy moves or deus-ex story fixing definitely intrigues me. It has a presentation of longevity that manages to be angsty but in a more reasonable fashion than the over the top dramatic moping I’ve come to know and loathe. A gargoyle is definitely a nice touch and it all comes together very well. Even the way Zoe is inserted into the mystery generally works well – it gives her a motive and a need to be involved without any sense of the protagonist randomly inserting themselves where they don’t belong.
There’s also a lot of research in this book that really shows in the writing – the history that has been delved to has informed the characters and added some nice substance to the overall book
This is all very promising but the plot falls down in one main way – the pacing. The pacing of this book is really slow, there’s a lot of time spent describing situations and experiences and Zoe’s past. There’s also a lot of time spent with Zoe being involved in Brixton’s life and his drama and even more time spent cooking and describing that cooking in detailed terms. On top of this we have her moving into the new rickety house and the problems inherent with that and her general getting by in her new neighbourhood. It’s frustrating because we’re hammered home by Dorian how very very urgent and essential it is that a solution to his petrification be found but there’s absolutely no urgency from the characters themselves, the narrative or any interaction.
In some ways, though, this slowness adds to the theme of Zoe not really knowing what to do and having all this urgency she has few tools to deal with. Ultimately, Zoe is severely out of her depth. She isn’t an investigator and she doesn’t want to be one, she has spent much of the last few decades keeping to herself and keeping her secrets – these are things she wants to go on doing. Still, even with that thematic note, the story needed advancing and there just needed to be more urgency injected into the characters – Zoe taking regular leisurely walks or stopping for tea destroy any sense of her being hurried or being even slightly aware of the time constraints she’s under. I’m not saying they’re poorly done – she managed to make the food sound pretty appetising, for example – but they were out of place and often severely in the way. This isn’t a recipe book and in storyline with such urgency, I shouldn’t feel like I’ve been dropped into one