A modern tale of ancient intrigue from a USA Today bestselling author
When Zoe Faust–herbalist, alchemist, and recent transplant to Portland, Oregon–begins unpacking her bags, she can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stow away: a living, breathing, three-and-half-foot gargoyle. Dorian Robert-Houdin is no simple automaton, nor is he a homunculus; in fact, he needs Zoe’s help to decipher a centuries-old text that explains exactly what he is. Zoe, who’s trying to put her alchemical life behind her, isn’t so sure she can help. But after a murder victim is discovered on her front porch, Zoe realized she’s tangled up in ancient intrigue that can’t be ignored.
One Sentence Summary:
A plot not weighty enough to carry the book means that you’ll have to love the underdeveloped characters to enjoy it.
I’m disappointed, son. This book had a cool premise: Alchemy is cool. The concept of Dorian is cool. The problem is neither are properly utilized.
The Accidental Alchemist is a mystery with a dash of the fantastic by the way of alchemy. As I indicated though, the plot feels flimsy, so much so at one point the characters resort to having a dinner party so that the mystery will somehow resolve itself. The plan is inspired by the mystery novels that Dorian reads, but it’s like he doesn’t realize that by the time of the dinner party that Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot have already solved it, and everyone just happens to be conveniently gathered. It just reads as odd.
So that leaves the characters.
Meet Zoe. She’s vegan and a 300-year old alchemist and a vegan.
Did you know she likes to eat vegan food because if she’s going to live forever, she wants to eat food that will make her feel better. Never mind that going vegan when she did would have made her stand out, not a great idea for someone trying to hide.
The character isn’t militant about her diet, but between references to it in her narration and the countless number of scenes book-ended by descriptions of vegan food the book treads dangerously close to the line of being that vegan friend who won’t shut up about how awesome their diet it. Given that the you could cut out all the stuff about veganism and not really lose the plot, some people will find it to be too much, and I wouldn’t blame for you it.
As for the alchemy bit, it’s under-developed. She doesn’t really practice, we mostly get repeated utterings about her affinity for plants and she mixes up some tinctures. She’s apparently such a questionable practitioner that she doesn’t even quite know which of her mixtures were the Elixir of Life! Okay then.
And really, that’s about all we get to know about her. She just feels a bit underdeveloped.
Also underdeveloped was Dorian. Once you get past his awesome backstory, he just comes across as a fairy stereotypical Frenchman. He likes cooking food. He likes his coffee. He likes Le Monde. No mention of wine, but I’d imagine at some point he’d probably imbibe.
There are some teens. There is a quirky tea shop. There’s a detective who is taken off the case. They are all fine, though I still question what kind of an adult would let a 14 year old serve alcohol at a party. Anyway.
The book is a fun read, but seriously, the second you start thinking about it, it falls apart and that’s a shame. I think had she focused less on the food and more on the task at hand than maybe she could have fleshed everything out just a wee bit more and the book would be easier to recommend. As it stands, at best I can give it a weak recommendation and even then I don’t even know if I can. It’s just not quite there.
Verdict: a reluctant Skip it