Review: Ashes & Alchemy by Cindy Spencer Pape

ashes and alchemy by cindy spencer papeFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: steampunk romance
Series: Gaslight Chronicles #6
Length: 82 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: January 6, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

Police inspector Sebastian Brown served Queen and country in India before returning to England to investigate supernatural crimes alongside the Order of the Round Table. If his wifeless, childless life feels a little empty sometimes, that’s not too great a price to pay in the name of duty.

Minerva Shaw is desperately seeking a doctor when she mistakenly lands on Sebastian’s doorstep. Her daughter Ivy has fallen gravely ill with a mysterious illness–the same illness, it seems, that’s responsible for taking the lives of many of Ivy’s classmates.

Seb sniffs a case, and taking in Minnie and Ivy seems the only way to protect them while he solves it. But as mother and daughter work their way into his heart and Seb uses every magickal and technological resource he can muster to uncover the source of the deadly plague, it’s he who will need protecting–from emotions he’d thought buried long ago.

My Review:

Steam and Sorcery by Cindy Spencer PapeCindy Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles are a delicious alchemical mixture of steampunk and sorcery, and I’m not just saying that because it echoes the title of the first book in the series (Steam & Sorcery).

If you love steampunk, read this series from the very beginning. The worldbuilding just gets better and more detailed as the series goes on, and the stories are always just plain fun! What makes the series shine is the author’s invention of an alternate Victorian age where Charles Babbage’s analytical engine was actually invented, as opposed to merely theoretical, in the 1830s, and Ada Lovelace was the first coder. Computers in the 1830s and 1840s changed history, bringing the analytical sciences to bear on the age of steam.

And, since Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, women attend university in this alternate era.

But alongside these scientific developments, vampires and werewolves walk, or stalk among the populace. Werewolves are mostly the good guys, but vampires are rotting corpses that feed on anyone they catch. To fight them, and other supernatural creatures, the Order of the Knights of the Round Table has continued into the “modern” era. They fight the supernatural with magic.

Magic and science coexist to make fantastic stories.

In Ashes & Alchemy we see something that hasn’t previously been dealt with much in the Gaslight Chronicles world–what about the people who are part of the families but don’t have the gift?

Sebastian Brown knows all about the Order because his father is a Knight. He has a smidgen of the talent, but not enough to qualify for the Order himself. He still serves Queen and Country–Seb is a Police Inspector, and his talent is a handy one–he can sense when someone is telling the truth.

Minerva Shaw spends nearly her last strength dropping against his door late one night, mistaking his house for the doctor next door. It’s fortuitous for them both. Her daughter is burning up with fever in the tenement they share, and his neighbor is a doctor known for his willingness to make house calls in chancy neighborhoods.

Moonlight and mechanicals by Cindy Spencer PapeBut the doctor is overwhelmed by patients from an accident, and Seb volunteers to bring the child to his own house. This is where the case deepens from a simple act of charity into another fiendishly clever plot like the one in Moonlight & Mechanicals, although this time the motives are closer to hearth and home.

When Seb takes in Minerva and her daughter Ivy, he finds that the presence of this little family in his formerly empty house awakens feelings that he thought he buried in India along with his own wife and child.

But he knows that Minerva has secrets chasing after her that she is afraid to reveal. And the doctor discovers that Ivy’s illness has a far from natural origin; an origin so unnatural that it requires investigation by the Order.

Escape Rating B+: Steampunk, magic and the Knights of the Round Table are still an irresistible combination. But it is terrific to see this story explore what happens with someone who is not a Knight. Just because your family has magic powers does not mean that your parents are any better at the job. Seb’s father is a piece of work. Still.

Seb using the case as an excuse to keep Minerva and Ivy around is such a classic excuse for him to disturb his empty household for a reason. It works excellently! He can keep pretending that he’s only taking care of them during the investigation, and Minerva can pretend that she doesn’t actually want to stay.

Minerva’s past, particularly her relationship with her daughter Ivy, is extremely touching. She puts Ivy first, always, even at her own expense. She’s aware that she’s doing it but has decided that it is worth the cost to herself.

It was great to see the rest of the gang. Wink and Liam in particular, the couple from Moonlight & Mechanicals, are very necessary side characters in this one.

Ashes & Alchemy is a marvelous love story that continues a theme throughout this series, about the importance of the family-you-make. And it has a terrifically convoluted scientific steampunk plot and a sparking hot romance, too!

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