The Alchemists’ Council, by Cynthea Masson
Let me begin by saying that The Alchemists’ Council is the bee’s knees (more on why that’s a pun later). I’ll be honest; I was asked to read and review The Alchemists’ Council, by my aunt, who is a friend and former colleague of the author. I do not know the author personally, but I was provided with an Advance Reading Copy. That said, I intend to review this book as honestly as possible.
The Alchemists’ Council is an imaginative, intelligent fantasy novel, set alternately between the Council dimension and our world. Told from multiple points of view, it is largely the story of Jaden, a Junior Initiate of the Alchemists’ Council, who is presented with a choice. To follow the Council blindly, or to question everything she’s learned since she arrived in Council Dimension and decide for herself who she can trust.
So, what do alchemists and bees have in common?
Bees are disappearing from the pages of the ancient manuscripts in Council dimension and from the outside world, threatening its very existence. Jaden navigates alchemy’s complexities, but the more she learns, the more she begins to question Council practices.
I’ll be honest. Fantasy isn’t exactly my genre. I mostly read steampunk, occasionally horror. I like fast-paced stories with airship battles, daring feats, and suspenseful chase scenes. This book was not that. Instead, Cynthea Masson drew me in to her world through imaginative, utterly unique, and highly detailed world-building, and believable flawed characters. Indeed, while Council Dimension is immaculate, beautiful, and pristine, the characters that inhabit it are deceptive (Cedar, Sadira, Kalina), self-centered (Laurel), and even cruel (Obeche), which is exactly how I like my characters.
a wizard, Harry an alchemist, Jaden.
It’s an intelligently written, character-driven fantasy novel. The Alchemists’ Council is Harry Potter for adults. No, you won’t be seeing Quidditch within these pages, but still, the similarities are really not so disparate. Harry heads off to Hogwarts each year to study wizardry. He secretly sneaks about in the halls at night to meet with his friends as they look into a possible plot to bring back the Dark Lord. (Spoiler alert) Jaden is spirited away to Council Dimension, where she studies alchemy. She sneaks about the halls at night in order to meet with Arjan, and (like Harry and his friends) even sneaks into the library to read the banned books section. She’s also investigating a possible Rebel Branch plot to bring back a banished Council member. See what I mean?
Admittedly, at its core, Alchemists’ Council has a fairly standard fantasy plot, but it’s not so simple as that. Every character seems to have their own agenda, and they all have their secrets. Since the plot is driven by characters, this makes for some interesting surprises along the way.
The novel excels particularly at world-building. The rules of alchemy are laid out as early as possible, answering questions such as what can and can’t the alchemists do within the opening chapters, and constructing the plot around that. Oh, and (again, spoiler alert) there’s much more to alchemy than merely transmuting lead into gold. Speaking of gold, The Alchemists’ Council, by Cynthea Masson, definitely merits a gold seal of approval. A gold star? Some sort of gold pun.