A Conspiracy of Alchemists (Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1)by Liesel Schwarz
LEAVE IT TO CHANCE. Eleanor “Elle” Chance, that is—the intrepid heroine of this edgy new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy, historical adventure, and paranormal romance into pure storytelling gold.
In a Golden Age where spark reactors power the airways, and creatures of Light and Shadow walk openly/b>/b>/i>
LEAVE IT TO CHANCE. Eleanor “Elle” Chance, that is—the intrepid heroine of this edgy new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy, historical adventure, and paranormal romance into pure storytelling gold.
In a Golden Age where spark reactors power the airways, and creatures of Light and Shadow walk openly among us, a deadly game of Alchemists and Warlocks has begun.
When an unusual cargo drags airship-pilot Elle Chance into the affairs of the mysterious Mr. Marsh, she must confront her destiny and do everything in her power to stop the Alchemists from unleashing a magical apocalypse.
“A wonderful sense of fun on every page . . . Visit [your] nearest bibliographic emporium and seek this rather magnificent tome out.”—The Eloquent Page
“I truly enjoyed this novel and strongly suggest it to Steampunk fans. I’m convinced A Conspiracy of Alchemists will rock your world!”—Tynga’s Reviews
“Pure fun to read.”—Karissa’s Reading Review
Read an Excerpt
September 4, 1903
The opium den above the Café du Aleix smelled of clove incense and oblivion.
“Eleanor! Welcome to Paris. I am so glad you came.” Patrice, her docking agent, rose up from the sofa and gripped her shoulders fondly. He was a big bear of a man and the little shake he gave her almost lifted her off her feet.
“Patrice,” Elle said in her best French. “Always a pleasure to see you.” The sweet scent of opium rose up from his clothes as she kissed him—twice on each side, as was the custom on the Continent.
“Sit. Sit. Rest for a moment. I’ll go and see if I can get us some refreshments. Watch my seat for me.” He swayed down the staircase on legs that were not entirely steady.
Elle slung her holdall over the back of a chair where she could keep an eye on it and sank into one of the linen-covered settees that lined the walls. The windows of the café were all sealed up so no sunlight could penetrate its sanctuary. Ornate brass lamps sat against the red chinoiserie wallpaper. The warm glow of their spark cores softened the sordid purpose of this place.
The only other patron in the den was a brawny man in a gray jacket. He hunched over a journal, scribbling furious lines of verse over the pages, pausing only to slam down gulps of absinthe from a greasy glass at his side without even bothering to mix it properly. The murky liquid swirled inside the glass, like an artist’s water jar after too many paintbrushes had been dipped into it.
Next to the poet, a green absinthe fairy balanced en pointe upon the edge of the low table. She arched her arm and swung her leg to and fro, like a little dancer at the barre. The poet cursed, crumpled the page and flung it across the room, where it burst into flames and disappeared.
Poets, Elle thought with annoyance. The poetry had to be supremely rubbish, for the fairy-muse to look that bored. It was almost cruel to watch the poor thing suffer like that.
The man looked up from his work and their eyes met. He smiled at her, his expression lush and predatory.
Elle looked away, denying him the satisfaction of seeing her shudder. A desperate need to rush outside for fresh air and light filled her, but she remained in her seat. To reassure herself, she touched the row of buttons on the front of her shirt. The slim hilt of the stiletto she kept tucked into the front laces of her corset was still there.
She sighed and looked up at the roof. Hopefully this business with Patrice would be brief, so she could be on her way. She hated stepping into the Shadow side. It was odd that even in this day and age there were still places in this world where Reason and Enlightenment had not reached.
Patrice appeared with a tray at the top of the stairs. He walked carefully over to the table and set it down on a clear space with exaggerated care. The floorboards groaned briefly as he sank into the upholstery opposite her.
“I brought tea. Oolong. Have some.” He lifted the teapot and poured the steaming liquid into small ceramic cups. There were dark crescents of dirt at the base of his fingernails when he handed her one.
“So tell me, my dear, did you have a pleasant flight over the Channel?” he said.
“It was fine. Windy, but nothing unusual for this time of year.” She wanted to ask about the assignment, but Patrice was not a man who could be rushed. She would have to go through the ritual of negotiation with him first.
“Would you like a pipe?” He rummaged around the opium paraphernalia on the table. “I’m sure I have a made one here somewhere.”
She shook her head. “Better not. Wouldn’t want to crash my ship and your cargo into the sea, now would I?”
He fiddled with one of the carved pipe stems in a moment of indecision. “I suppose you are right. Might as well do this with a clear head.” He gave her a knowing smile.
“Patrice, what is this all about?” She sat forward, unable to contain her curiosity. “The telegram said that the charter is urgent and to meet you here, but nothing else. Paris is a long way to travel on speculation, so I hope I haven’t travelled here unnecessarily.”
Patrice’s laugh was a sudden burst of noise, swallowed up by the paper screens and furnishings. “Always straight to business, little one. That’s what I like about you. You never get distracted when there’s work to be done.”
At the sound of Patrice’s laughter, the absinthe fairy looked up. She flexed her wings and wisped over to where Elle and Patrice were sitting. Elle averted her eyes. The fairy-muses of Paris were elegant from afar, but, like dragonflies or the prostitutes who prowled dark alleys, they were quite ugly if one looked at them too closely. They said the fairies brought brightly colored dreams from which one never wanted to wake up and which brought descent into complete madness. Much was said about the hideous things they did to their charges—the absinthe drinkers—once held in their spell. And Elle had no desire to be caught by the charms of La Fée Verte.
The fairy shifted form until she was nothing but a knot of gray-green light rising in the direction of the bamboo fairycote that hung from the ceiling. The sound of fairies whispering in the air above washed over Elle. She felt their attention like a whisper of breath against her skin and she shivered.
“So, on to business.” Patrice stroked his broom moustache slowly as he spoke.
“I’m listening.” She was careful to keep her voice even. She needed this charter. She would not have bothered coming to this dreadful place if she didn’t. Patrice was one of the few agents who didn’t mind that she was a woman. She had managed to log some valuable flight hours thanks to the official work he sent her way. In return, she did some of his off-the-books business for him. She owed him that. It was the way the world worked: Everyone owed somebody something in the end and it helped if those you owed were friends.
“Tonight’s charter is a rather delicate matter,” Patrice said, interrupting her thoughts. “The utmost discretion is required. It concerns the conveyance of a very important parcel. You are to fly to England. Someone will be waiting to collect the freight at the Aerodrome. You will receive further instructions upon your arrival.”
“That shouldn’t be too difficult. But . . . ?” There was bound to be a catch somewhere. There invariably was when it came to dealing with Patrice.
Patrice nodded and smiled as if he had read her thoughts. “I need you to look after part of the freight for me this afternoon. Only for a few hours, until you fly tonight. It shouldn’t cause you too much trouble. There is a reason I told you to watch my seat. See, I have it right here.”
He pulled a polished wooden box out from between the cushions behind him and put it on the table between the teapot and the pipes. “No one will even know you have it.”
“That can’t be all of it, surely? They wouldn’t have chartered a whole airship for one little box, would they?”
He shrugged. “It’s an important parcel.”
She frowned and ran her finger along the brass-edged corner of the box. It was roughly the size of a book—a solid block of wood with no obvious hinges or opening. A fine pattern of ancient-looking symbols was laid into the surface.
“Patrice, I am just a pilot. I fly the freight. I deliver it. I get paid. That is all and you know it. You cannot ask me to start carting things around Paris for you. That has never been part of our agreement.”
“Make an exception this one time, please. It’s not as if I’m asking you to guard a warehouse. It’s just one small box.”
Elle looked over her shoulder. The poet on the other side of the room had fallen asleep with his pencil still in his hand. A soft snore emanated from somewhere at the back of his throat.
“What’s inside the box?” she said in a fierce whisper. “There has to be a reason why it can’t be opened, and I’m not going to carry it around in my holdall unless I know what that is.”
Patrice shook his head. “I cannot tell you what is inside the box. I am bound by an oath of secrecy. All you need to know is that it’s extremely valuable, but completely safe. And you are not to let it out of your sight until you get to England.”
“And where is the rest of the freight?”
“The rest of the freight will be waiting for you at the airfield.”
“You will be aware, of course, that this is going to increase the risks I have to take. What if I am searched and they find the box?”
Patrice rested his moustache on his knuckles in measured exasperation. “Anyone who sees it will simply think it’s a jewelry box. My client, Viscount Greychester, is a very powerful man. If anything does happen, he will take care of matters. Just mention his name and all will be smoothed over. Just like that.” Patrice tried to snap his fingers, but no sound came from them. He looked at his hand with the slight surprise of the uncoordinated.
“It’s going to cost more. I’m not doing this for charity, you know.”
That wasn’t completely true. She loved to fly more than anything and she would do it for free if she could, but dreams and dirigibles cost money.
He sat forward and took hold of her hands. “All I need is a standard Channel crossing. Nothing unusual. I am asking that you do this for me. For all the times I have helped you.”
He had a point. There was no arguing with him on that. She gave Patrice a look of extreme dubiousness.
“And before you start complaining about it, here is your fee.” He pulled a dark blue velvet pouch out of the pocket in his waistcoat and placed it on her palm.
Elle’s eyes widened with surprise. It was an eternity bracelet inlaid with gems. Brilliant cut stones, the size of peas, set in a neat row ten or eleven inches long. At each end was one-half of a clasp that intertwined in a Celtic knot.
“Patrice, are those diamonds?”
He nodded. “They are indeed. Your preferred mode of payment, I believe?”
Elle pulled her combobulator optic loupe from her holdall, clicked it open and held the lens up to her eye. The tiny gears whirred and clicked as the image came into focus. She studied the bracelet between her fingers. Even in the dim light of the spark-lamps, she could see that the diamonds were flawless. They shone with a strange but exquisite shade of blue. She would have to take them to a jeweler to be valued, but the bracelet would fetch quite a price if she used the right people.
She had found that jewelry was the perfect form of payment for her services. Diamonds were far preferable to bills that needed her father’s signature for her to draw upon them. Gold was too heavy to carry and too hard to sell when it came to it. But no one asked questions when a lady sought to sell jewelry discreetly. Elle had become very good at spotting paste gems from real ones.
She put away her optics, taking care not to seem too pleased.
“So do we have an agreement?” Patrice picked up his tea and sat back against the cushions.
Curiosity bubbled up inside her. She lifted the box up and gave it a wiggle. It had a heavy, solid feel to it that spelled trouble. She should say no to this charter. She felt the little voice inside her whisper the warning. But doing exactly what she ought not to was one of her very worst habits. And now was not the time to break old habits. Not when her ship needed mending.
“All right, Patrice, I’ll do it,” she said. “But only because it’s you who is asking.” She slipped the box into her holdall and set it on the floor next to her feet.
Patrice raised his cup and smiled. “To a successful flight, then.”
To wealthy eccentric clients with more money than brains, Elle thought to herself as she took a sip of fragrant tea.
“Try the bracelet,” Patrice said. He gestured with his hand for her to try.
She flicked the diamonds over her wrist. They wound around it and the clasp shut with a click. “It’s rather early in the afternoon for diamonds, don’t you think?” She held it up to admire it in the light.
The absinthe fairy drifted down from the rafters and hovered before Elle, as if she was trying to get a better look.
“You like shiny things, don’t you?” she said to the fairy.
The fairy moved up and down in what appeared to be the affirmative. Then, in a green flash almost too quick for the eye to see, the knot of light disappeared into the bracelet.
“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?” Elle wiggled her arm, but the fairy refused to budge. Elle tried to undo the clasp, but it was stuck. “Patrice, I think my stowaway has broken the clasp. Can you help me, please?” She held her wrist out to him.
“Oh! That can’t be good—” Patrice started to say but something beyond her shoulder caught his attention.
“Patrice, there you are!” A man said in English behind her.
“Marsh. You have found us!” Patrice flushed red and half rose up from his seat.
Marsh turned out to be a tall man wrapped in a black carriage cloak despite the mild weather. His dark hair was just that little too long and messy to be fashionable and the finely tailored black shantung waistcoat, visible from between the folds of his cloak, was too expensive to match the rest of him.
“This is Miss Eleanor Chance. The pilot,” Patrice said, emphasizing the last word.
“How do you do.” She hid her arm behind her back. It was never wise to advertise in this type of establishment that one was wearing diamonds.
Marsh barely nodded in reply as he looked her up and down. His fine, regular features creased into a frown. “Patrice, surely you can’t be serious?” he said.
Patrice started to stammer an answer, but Marsh turned on him. “And iron? What were you thinking? Do you realize that I have been looking for you for three hours?”
“It was the safest place I could think of to wait. Besides, there is nothing to worry about. This was merely a diversion, nothing you wouldn’t be able to overcome.” A tinge of obstinacy crept into his tone. “Miss Chance is an excellent pilot. She has top-notch credentials. I can assure you that all will be well.”
Meet the Author
Liesel Schwarz is a lifelong fan of nineteenth-century Gothic literature and a hopeless romantic who loves Victorians, steampunk, fairies, fantasy monsters, the fin de siècle, and the correct way to drink absinthe. She also likes medieval things, pirates, zombies, space operas, and all subjects in between.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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A great addition to the world of steampunk- and not YA! A good mystery, great characters, and writing that will grow with the author. Every time I thought the mystery was wrapping up, another layer was added. I highly recommend to those who already love steampunk, as well as those who have yet to explore the world.
A Promising New Steampunk Series Goodreads Blurb: <blockquote><strong>LEAVE IT TO CHANCE.</strong> Eleanor “Elle” Chance, that is—a high-flying dirigible pilot with a taste for adventure and the heroine of this edgy new series that transforms elements of urban fantasy, steampunk, and paranormal romance into pure storytelling gold. It is 1903, and the world is divided between light and shadow. On the side of light is a wondrous science that has transformed everyday life by harnessing magical energies to ingenious new technologies. But each advance of science has come at the expense of shadow—the traditional realm of the supernatural. Now two ancient powers are preparing to strike back. Blood-sucking immortal Nightwalkers and their spellcasting Alchemist allies have a plan to cover the whole world in shadow. All they require is the sacrifice of a certain young woman whose past conceals a dangerous secret. But when they come after Elle, they get more than they bargained for. This enterprising young woman, the daughter of a scientific genius, has reserves of bravery and determination that even she scarcely suspects. Now she is about to meet her match in more ways than one: a handsome yet infuriating Warlock named Hugh Marsh, whose agenda is as suspect as his charms are annoyingly irresistible.</blockquote> An exciting and creative series debut, this book deftly combines history with science fiction, fantasy, in the wonderful and magical world of steampunk fiction. From the very beginning this series revolves around a very strong-willed young lady, one who can serve tea in the drawing room to members of high society, then turn around and pilot her own dirigible. Elle takes after her father with a mind for mathematics and engineering, yet remains as feminine as the next debutant - when it suits her that is. Lord Greychester, also known as Hugh Marsh, is a striking leading male character. He is a lovely blend of domineering, devious, gallant, chivalrous, and utterly bemused by the young Ms. Elle Chance. As a Warlock Mr. Marsh has a duty, but he finds it more and more difficult to fulfill his obligations. The longer he goes without fully explaining himself to Elle, the stronger she is in her resistance of his 'requests.' The other characters are just as developed as necessary to get by. They aren't particularly well-rounded, with a few exceptions of course. Normally that would bother me, but in this case it works. Most of the other characters fall into the roll of antagonist of varying degrees, and as villains they play their roles very well, if not a bit by rote. Most are caricatures of the evil villains of the 1920's and 30's, with the billowing black cape and mustache waxed into points, yet they fit the story flawlessly. They all have the traditional motivations, greed and power, and they are more than willing to kill to gain what they want, which of course is a real problem for Elle, seeing as she is what they want. Or more precisely, what is inside her is what they want. This story starts neatly and quickly picks up speed, until it is as fast as a runaway freight train. Yet for all the speed the plot is still well rounded and peppered with great details and tantalizing glimpses of what might be. The arc of the story is smooth, with steady pacing that ebbs and flows with a very natural feeling. Each scene is smoothly constructed, and even with an explosive ending the book still leaves a few threads dangling to better set up the next book in the series. Though not the most original steampunk book I've read, this one more than satisfies.
It is a good book
Alchemists is a good mix of paranormal, sci fi, steam punk, and a touch of fantasy (with the epic journey). The writing is a little cheeky and formal all at the same time, which kept taking me out of the story. That kind of story-telling works for some people, but it just didn't "do it" for me. The combination of steam punk and paranormal was a lot fun. The magics that helped run the machinery could have been explained a bit better, but overall by the end of the story I had a good grasp on the world and the things that ran it. The romance, while cute, seemed forced at times. Marsh and Elle are fabulous characters on their own, with their own strengths and challenges, but I was never really rooting for them as a couple. I am having a hard time putting this review down - the book was ok, I enjoyed it fine, I had some issues, but overall finished the story and it was that - just ok. Nothing major was wrong, and nothing made me all giddy.
Charming, Funny and Entertaining Elle is a strong main character. Very independent, pretty and smart. This is the first Adult steampunk novel that I have completely lost myself in. The others I had read didn't quite fit the expectations that I had for the genre. But sure am glad I decided to pick this one up because it has given me hope to try more! I usually read young adult novels and even though this one is not one, I would still recommend it for all readers. We start off in Paris, and Patrice is asking Elle to take a package and take a transport in her dirigible as a favor. While discussing the terms in his office, she is also given payment in the form of a diamond bracelet in which an absinthe fairy flies into before she can leave, temporarily locking the bracelet onto her arm. Then all hell breaks loose, she must escape danger, looses the package and gets shot at as she takes off. Only to find out that when she arrives home that her scientist father has been abducted and the group from Paris is still after her. This leads us on a fun adventure over and through Europe as she must stay ahead of Air Pirates and Alchemists. We meet vampires. oracles, warlocks along the way (to name a few). With her companion, a Warlock named Marsh. She also discovers that he knew her mother and that there is a connection to their worlds that goes beyond her missing father. The story is interspersed with narration by the absinthe fairy and fun gadgets that light up Elle's eyes during the trip. Her excitement and determination really drive the story and I found it a very fun read. I recommend this one!
3.5 Stars ~Reviewed by FRANCESCA & posted at Under the Covers Book Blog “This series is definitely one to look out for. I’m very curious as to where the story can go from here. It has so much potential and I’ll be reading the next book for sure.” ~Under the Covers The first thing that attracted me to this book was the cover. I saw a huge posted at the Del Rey booth at Comic Con last year and immediately wanted to buy it, only to find out it wasn’t coming out until this year. Could it be one of those cases where the cover misled me? Just a little. Even though the cover is very much representative of the story. And the story was very interesting. It just fell a little flat in some parts. I’m a little confused as to how to classify the book to begin with. It is definitely historical but it’s not historical romance. There’s paranormal elements (the alchemists, absint fairies, warlocks and such) but it’s not a paranormal romance. Even though there is a romance. And although some might consider this a bit steampunk, I think I’ll go with an urban fantasy. It best describes the series, just know that the other elements are mixed in as well. That being said, we have a strong heroine. Elle is a pilot. A female pilot at the turn of the 20th century. She doesn’t normally walk around with gowns and pretty dresses. She’s unconventional, opinionated, loyal and passionate. She loves her family and her job. My kind of heroine. She’s stubborn but also realist. She didn’t necessarily go with the flow and questioned things along the way, just like you would expect her to do. She is asked to transport a box from London to France, without knowing what it contains. She soon finds herself taking a couple of extra passengers on that trip. One of those a sexy and rich guy who turns out to be a warlock. Now she has the Alchemist enemies after her. Marsh was alluring enough to peak my interest and I can see there’s potential for me to really like him in the next book. He immediately recognizes something in her that is not fully plain human but has to bide his time to get her to come to terms with that and find out what it is. The sexual tension wasn’t as thick as it could’ve been but it was nice to be able to see into both Marsh and Elle’s heads to find out how they were feeling. Otherwise, I would’ve never known there was an attraction! As Marsh and Elle go through France and Venice to find her father, who was kidnapped before she got back home, they get in all kinds of trouble and meet interesting characters. The plot has twists that I definitely didn’t expect, which was also nice to see. I did not expect Elle to turn out to be what she did. Setting this story in the era she did was a perfect choice. I felt the actual time period and places where as much a character in the story as the actual characters. It added an extra appeal that worked for me. However, I do feel that this book suffered from first book syndrome. Not in a way of info dump like many do, just that the story could’ve been a lot more pulse-pounding than it was. But not only is this the first book in this series, but the author’s debut. This series is definitely one to look out for. I’m very curious as to where the story can go from here. It has so much potential and I’ll be reading the next book for sure. *ARC provided by publisher via Netgalley
An exotic journey alongside endearing characters. In view of the cover, I imagined a heroine with a temper due to the pistol by her side. A mystery adventure like "The Mummy" by Stephen Sommers with a touch of elegance and refinement. All these clues with nothing but a simple picture cover... Lucky me, my imagination is fertile! After reading the synopsis, I thought that I had good nose or a great intuition. So, I embarked on a delightful adventure full of rhythm. From the first pages, I was not disappointed. There are intriguing characters, suspense and magic. Elle Chance is a woman full of spirit, surprises, with a sharp tongue, for an English lady from the early 20th century. If the story is nothing like the adventures of Rick O'Connell and Evy Carnahan and their quest in Egypt, how the two heroes spend their time getting on each others nerves before yielding to passion is exactly the atmosphere that exists between Elle and Mr. Marsh. Sparks are flying! But her association with Mr. Marsh is a dangerous one ... Rhythmed, the text takes you from London to Constantinople / Istanbul via Venice by plane, helicopter and the Orient Express. A pleasant trip! For cons, the lack of choice for Elle Chance on being an Oracle and choosing her path, her destiny annoyed me. The good or bad guys want to use her power by locking her in a golden cage for the good of a greater cause... Are you serious ? I even stopped my reading for a while because of this idea. Who can say what is good for him except himself? Fortunately, I've pursued the adventures of Elle and Marsh and I was glad to have persevered. An exotic journey alongside endearing characters. Lucie newbooksonmyselves.blogspot.fr
Elle Chance, a woman airship captain, takes on odd cargo and passengers on a flight from Paris to England. Her choice to accept this charter sets off a chain of events that she could never imagine. In a world where machines and science have taken over were magic reined, Elle finds herself the key to opening the world back up to power. As a scientist daughter, she is extremely reluctant to this new path. Mr. Marsh is one of Elle’s passengers on that fate filled night. He is a Viscount and a warlock, so he is very familiar with power and magic. Leading Elle along the path she doesn’t want to travel attraction begins to grow. Pursued for her magical naiveté and power Elle is in a for fight for her life. With her help form Mr. Marsh she must keep the Alchemists from ripping a whole in the world’s fabric. Treachery and betrayal is at every turn and Elle must decide in whom she can trust. A Conspiracy of Alchemist was an interesting story with a very intriguing start to a new series. The story was slow building and filled with lots of dialogue. This was a fascinating cross of fantasy and steampunk, twisting magic and machine. I enjoyed this story and will be reading the continuation of The Chronicle of Light and Shadow. This ARC copy of A Conspiracy of Alchemists was given to me by Random House Publishing Group in exchange for a honest review. Publish Date March 5, 2013.