Dark Alchemy – Laura Bickle



Geologist Petra Dee arrives in Wyoming looking for clues to her father’s disappearance years before. What she finds instead is Temperance, a dying Western town with a gold rush past and a meth-infested present. But under the town’s dust and quiet, an old power is shifting. When bodies start turning up – desiccated and twisted skeletons that Petra can’t scientifically explain – her investigations land her in the middle of a covert war between the town’s most powerful interests. Petra’s father wasn’t the only one searching for the alchemical secrets of Temperance, and those still looking are now ready to kill. Armed with nothing but shaky alliances, a pair of antique guns, and a relic she doesn’t understand, the only thing Petra knows for sure is that she and her coyote sidekick are going to have to move fast, or die next.


This is kind of a strange one.

Is contemporary western fantasy a thing? If it is, it’s kind of fascinating that it exists because it’s certainly a hodgepodge of disparate styles. You have the lush landscapes and desolation of true traditional westerns, the meth problems that are ravaging rural communities today, and then this imperfect alchemy that seems to only be capable of creating these creatures that are in a state of suspended animation: neither living nor dead, and for the most part, only able to follow commands and do little else.

It’s just odd

The pieces fit, but barely. If this were a jigsaw puzzle, the alchemy would be that piece that you can’t quite get to lay flat, even though you are 100% certain that no other piece can go into that space. That said, I suppose there’s no real reason why this shouldn’t work. Ultimately though, I can’t shake the feeling that if this isn’t one of those books where maybe keeping it a question whether the alchemy was true or just a bunch of crazies messing with chemicals might have served the book better.

As far as characters go, Petra is likable enough, though decidedly underdeveloped. To whit, about the only thing we learn about Petra that isn’t in the summary is the fact that she feels guilty over an accident on an oil rig that caused her to head to Wyoming in the first place. And since she’s looking for a fresh start, why not look for her father to boot. There just isn’t anything else to her. I almost feel like Sig, the coyote/spirit guide that adopted her, has more personality. It’s not that you don’t want her to succeed, it’s just that it’s hard to get vested in her. The ending of this book clearly sets up a sequel but the book just isn’t compelling enough to make you want to come back.

Books in the Harper/Voyager Impulse line tend to be a bit more experimental in nature than what often shows up in their main lines. While this means that the titles can be more hit and miss, the $2.99 price point is such that it can be worth taking a risk on, when you might not do the same for a full-priced title. If you’re a reader that isn’t as character-focused as I am, and the setting calls to you, it’s absolutely worth taking a shot because it’s an enjoyable enough little read. That said, if you want something more traditional, if you do like more character development or you just think this sounds too odd for your tastes, go ahead and skip it. It’s a niche title, and that’s okay.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: March 24th


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