Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: Mark of Blood and Alchemy by Evangeline Denmark

Mark of Blood and Alchemy (Curio #0.5)
By: Evangeline Denmark
Publisher: Blink


Olan Havardsson fled to the mountains when plague took his family and destroyed his village. Weak from the disease, he is saved from meeting his death by by a mysterious, secretive group whose healing elixirs bring him back from the brink of death. His mind clearer, he begins to suspect that his newfound friends are secret "magickers," but unwilling to believe that the beautiful and compassionate Auriana could be a witch, he accompanies them to their mountaintop, hospice haven. There he learns the history of the hospice, founded by the legendary Saint Gerodi, who sought through alchemical research to bring hope and healing to all he encountered.

But dissention runs deep among Gerodi's heirs, a line drawn between the brothers who welcomed him to their order and the Regians, who, in seeking to master the elements and discover the elixir of life, would claim mastery over others. When those who call the hospice home fall ill, Olan discovers that he, an outsider, may hold the key to bringing the balance to the order. For within his blood lies the key to continuing Gerodi's work -- the fusion of blood and alchemy.

Denmark's debut is an interesting slice of steampunk-driven fantasy, a unique and colorful entry in within Blink's publishing ranks. Denmark knows her creation, from the personality tics that maker her characters unique to the methodology of the alchemy that infuses every aspect of her steampunk-driven world. This is a welcome entry in inspy-flavored fiction (though the faith element is so faint here as to be non-existent, and as such should find a home on mainstream readers' shelves), but despite its unique premise and colorful execution, the result fell somewhat flat for me.

Denmark does a fantastic job dropping readers into the action of the story, but that said as a prequel, there is almost too much going on here for my tastes. The simmering conflict between the Regians and Gerodi's followers is so rich in history and so massive in portent for future volumes in the series that it felt a disservice to gloss over such a potentially rich slice of this world's history. I also had issues relating to Olan, the reader's gateway into the hospice's alchemic war. He's honorable to be sure, but his everyman quality is a little..bland?...particularly when he is revealed as the Great Nordic Savior..for no particular reason I could fathom other than he was simply too plainspoken and forthright to be duplicitous and thus compromised by the Regians' cause. (Side note: Until this book I've never come across the phrase "tea-stained lace" used to describe someone's complexion, and I hope I never do again. Also, this novella has the longest chapters of all time...when my Kindle tells me that chapter one is going to take me 40 minutes -- and I'm a fairly fast reader -- I kind of want to give up on life.)

The Mark of Blood and Alchemy is an action- and lore-packed introduction to Denmark's first full-length steampunk title, Curio. Denmark's absolute confidence in her characters and storytelling shine here -- this is an author who knows her world inside and out -- but ultimately there was a bit too much going on here, and too little compelling character development -- to leave me fully invested in this world. That said, there is a lot of potential within these pages and I look forward to seeing Denmark's imagination given free range within the parameters of a full-length novel.

About the book:

In this novella prequel to Evangeline Denmark's YA fantasy novel Curio, Olan Havardsson flees a devastating plague that took his family only to be saved by a mysterious group of "magickers" with healing powers. But as he accompanies his rescuers to their alpine enclave, mysteries arise surrounding their potions and powers of alchemy. Questions mount when Olan observes a deep division forming between those who seek to defend the purity of the healing alchemical work and those who would wield it as a powerful weapon.

Olan is thrust into the midst of this dissention after he discovers he is somehow special--chosen as a guardian like the enclave's founder. As he spends time with two of his rescuers--Auriana, a clever and captivating inventor, and Alaric, a brooding young man wrestling with his father's cruel beliefs--Olan realizes he may have the power to direct the course of blood and alchemy.

Introducing readers to the fantastical world of Curio, this novella is wrapped in adventure, romance, and intrigue.

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