Series: The Risen Kingdoms #1
Published by Tor.com on August 29, 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy & Magic, Steampunk
Reviewed by: Rebecca
A polymath princess and her faithful musketeer must unravel the plot of a thousand-year-old madman in order to save an a foreign kingdom from a disastrous civil war.
Caelum is an uninhabitable gas giant like Jupiter. High above it are the Risen Kingdoms, occupying flying continents called cratons. Remnants of a shattered world, these vast disks of soaring stone may be a thousand miles across. Suspended by magic, they float in the upper layers of Caelum's clouds.
Born with a deformed hand and utter lack of the family's blood magic, Isabelle is despised by her cruel father. She is happy to be neglected so she can secretly pursue her illicit passion for math and science. Then, a surprising offer of an arranged royal marriage blows her life wide open and launches her and Jeane-Claude on an adventure that will take them from the Isle des Zephyrs in l'Empire Céleste to the very different Kingdom of Aragoth, where magic deals not with blood, but with mirrors.
AN ALCHEMY OF MASQUES AND MIRRORS is a well-crafted, absorbing novel. In fact, Princess Isabelle might be one of my favourite characters. She kind, smart, and accustomed to the glares that come her way. Her disability and lack of magic make her an outcast. If she was male, then it might be easier to move forward in their religious society where women are pushed away from maths and science and forced into more appropriate activities. Her only trusted friend is Jean-Claude, the loyal musketeer. More a father-figure than a bodyguard, Jean-Claude trusts Isabelle's intelligence and is happy to make himself a fool if it will protect her.
Isabelle studies in secret. She’s scientifically-minded and follows these principles throughout the novel. She relies on wit instead of strength. When the arranged marriage was brought into the plot, I worried that the novel would shift its focus from an interesting treason investigation to a marriage ceremony. Thankfully, the plot stayed fast-paced and interesting.
Where AN ALCHEMY OF MASQUES AND MIRRORS might lose most of its readers is in the first few chapters. The first five chapters are a dense read. The magic system, the nobility class, and flight technicalities, are all thoroughly explained. Sometimes to the novel’s detriment. While all those detail do help to create a believable world, knowing about how the airships fly seems far less important than understanding the religion and magic lineages. Again, this is one of those rare novels where you wish there was a diagram at the front that explained the different types of magic and why they were important. Stick with it. Once you get past the introduction and focus on Isabelle, the 400+ pages fly by. The magic system is the one of the charms of the novel. There are limitations and reveals that affect the plot and challenge the characters. AN ALCHEMY OF MASQUES AND MIRRORS has riveting characters, amazing worldbuilding, and a plot with actual consequences. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.Series Titles:
For other fantasy books with detailed worldbuilding, check out City of Stairs (The Divine Cities #1) by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson, or The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison