Curtis Chaddock’s novel An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is inventive high fantasy. While it doesn’t hold all the elements of such stories, it has plenty to count it as such.
There’s a brilliant if young heroine, and she has a father-figure protector. And hey he’s a Musketeer, so what could possibly go wrong? Isabelle is a princess in the realm of l’Empire Céleste, which exists in a very different sky from our own. Her father agrees to betroth Isabelle to the scion of another land, which will hopefully tip the economic and political balance towards l’Empire. And, of course, intrigue ensues.
I loved the relationship between Isabelle and Jean-Claude, the musketeer. (Although I must admit that I thought of Laurell K. Hamilton’s vampire character of the same name.) Jean-Claude is twice Isabelle’s age, and treats her as a beloved daughter, something her father fails to do. Isabelle and Jean-Claude rely on each other, and I like how Craddock took two very different characters and gave them a unique relationship.
When I read books with young female characters, I often get frustrated. See my review of Queen of the Tearling. But AAoMaM didn’t feel like YA to me. First of all, Isabelle is a thinker and a mathematician. She’s not a helpless young girl, although she is forced to unexpectedly become stronger and smarter. It’s clear to that she’s comfortable in her own skin. I also appreciated that Craddock didn’t overdescribe courtly fashion or hair styles. Instead he focuses on moving the plot forward.
What Craddock does describe in detail is the world he’s created. Travel is done on skyships, which have open decks, masts and sails, but fly rather than sail. There are many imaginative constructs in scientific theories, machinery, and locations. I thoroughly enjoyed this world. However, Craddock was often quite long-winded in his explanations.
AAoMaM has long chapters, and I admit to considering bailing once or twice. I wish it hadn’t taken a full 50% of the book to get to intrigue and action. That said, quite a lot of world-building needed to happen. Hopefully the next two books in the trilogy will shift the balance further toward action. Altogether I found the story of Isabelle and Jean-Claude to be satisfying, if a little slow.