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An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors: Book One in the Risen Kingdoms

Review

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors: Book One in the Risen Kingdoms

Curtis Craddock’s debut novel, AN ALCHEMY OF MASQUES AND MIRRORS, reads like a cross between Alexandre Dumas’ THE THREE MUSKETEERS and a Victorian steampunk fantasy. An unusual magical system and plenty of court intrigue make this new release an engaging, if sometimes uneven, read.

When our story opens, a young chevalier named Jean-Claude is nauseously clinging for dear life to the railings of an airship headed to a noblewoman’s bedside. He’s the emperor’s personal representative at the birth of an heir to the noble house of de Zephyrs. But in a society that values physical perfection as a reflection of the magic within each lord and lady, the baby who is born is an aberration; she has a “wormfinger,” or a hand with its fingers fused together. Quick-thinking Jean-Claude puts the infant under the emperor’s protection, thus designating himself the guardian of the young Princess Isabelle de Zephyrs.

"The pacing is alternately exhilarating and exhausting, offering a down-to-the-wire climax that leaves one both satisfied and a bit confused."

Years later, spunky Isabelle, a brilliant student of mathematics, works to evade her brutal father’s wrath; he sees her as a good-for-nothing that doesn’t even bear her family’s deadly blood magic. So when an unexpected proposal of marriage from a foreign prince arrives on the de Zephyrs’ doorstep, it seems too good to be true to Isabelle, a chance to escape her father’s reign of terror once and for all. She eagerly accepts, and before she knows it, the princess and her protector are off to the foreign kingdom of Aragoth.

Quick-thinking and likable, Isabelle is the perfect heroine for this story: one who isn’t a part of the political elite, despite her high birth, which allows her to serve as a lens through which the reader can uncover layer after layer of conspiracies at the Aragothic court. Rakish Jean-Claude is a surprising treat, a father figure who fawns on Isabelle the way her own family never did, and the systems of blood and mirror magic in Craddock’s worlds are unique, if sometimes confusing in the many rules governing their use.

Where the book falls flat, however, is in its mystery element. Someone is out to get Isabelle, it seems, and that someone is inextricably bound up with the Aragothic court and the endless mind games played there. The reader will be panting to keep up with Isabelle --- who seems to grasp every conspiracy and intellectual argument ahead of just about everyone else on the page --- and her allies, who rush to save a world at a breakneck pace. The pacing is alternately exhilarating and exhausting, offering a down-to-the-wire climax that leaves one both satisfied and a bit confused.

Reviewed by Carly Silver on October 13, 2017

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors: Book One in the Risen Kingdoms
by Curtis Craddock