Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Alchemist In The Shadows The Alchemist In The Shadows
by Pierre Pevel

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

Dumas with Dragons!

I’m not kidding. Pierre Pevel is French, so it’s hardly surprising that when he writes historical fantasy, he turns not to the Arthurian or Elizabethan like English-speaking writers, but to the colourful court of Louis XIII, to Cardinal Richelieu and to the Musketeers. That said, our heroes are not the King’s Musketeers beloved in Dumas, but the Cardinal’s Blades. The villains are dragons, and one dragon in particular - L'Alchimiste des Ombres.

We learn early in the book that there is a draconic plot against the throne of France, but the exact nature of the dastardly plan does not become clear right until the climax. After a cracking fight in the introduction, the first three quarters of the book is largely occupied with investigations and political manoeuvring, so much so that a list of dramatis personae would have been really useful. Then, around page 280, the pace suddenly quickens, and everything comes to the suitably swash-buckling finale, with some brilliantly described swordplay.

There is more than a hint of Dumas in both the setting and in the writing style. I read Dumas in my teen years – including some of the less well-known novels like Twenty Years After, and I recognise his work in Pevel’s. But Pevel adds dragons to the mix, not just the large intelligent magic-using dragons, but tarrasques as heavy haulers, wyverns carrying messengers and so on. How history managed to survive that major a change and remain more-or-less intact is not explained, but that isn’t the point. No, this is about fun alternate history with French flair.

Oh, and two things I learned trawling Pevel’s web pages… the French word for steampunk is steampunk, and he writes that too.

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