Minerva Shaw is forced to race into the London night in desperation to find a doctor for her ill daughter Ivy. Though her clothing is soaked through and she worries about how she will pay the doctor, Minerva knows that she cannot stop. When in desperation, she passes out briefly at the door of Sebastian Brown, she has know idea that this faithful meeting is going to change her life forever. Minerva and Sebastian quickly discover that Ivy, along with the other children who have gotten ill, have been the victims of scientific experimentation. As Minerva and Sebastian two race to find the culprit, they find their own hearts racing as well.
Ashes & Alchemy is only 80 pages and therefore is a novella. Unfortunately, this means a very rushed romance. Sebastian and Minerva actually know each other for about 24 hours when they decide that what they feel for each other is love. Sebastian proposes within 48 hours and they are married within three weeks. That much time isn't even long enough to decide that one is in lust, let alone love. They know absolutely nothing about each other and yet Sebastian is quick to share that he is a member of a super secret society, putting not only his life but the lives of his family and friends at risk. Not to worry though, Minerva promises not to tell, honest.
The problem with the brevity of this story is that Pape based it on new characters with a few familiar ones popping by for a cameo, leaving the reader with very little familiarity with the main characters. The mystery is over before it even really begins and they don't really investigate but follow a lucky turn of phrase uttered by a young girl. The so-called mystery is a ruse for the ridiculous love affair.
To Pape's credit, Minerva has a strongly independent streak. When Sebastian tries to encourage her to stay behind when they go after the villain, she is determined to be included. She is a survivor of an attempted rape and even killed her would be rapist. Given his history in the military, Sebastian is authoritarian in nature but he does not get away with that when it comes to Minerva; she is his match and more. At least in the sense of class however, Sebastian does become her savior, because when they first meet, Minerva's flat is a crime scene and she is unemployed as a consequence of staying home to care for her daughter. A life with Sebastian elevates Minerva's class status significantly. In this way, the HAE is constructed to turn her into a fairy tale princess through the wiping away of all of her deprivations.