Alchemystic: Review

Author: Anton Strout
Edition: Paperback
Where I got it: Amazon UK

STORY TIME

In terms of plot, Alchemystic is pretty much your basic urban fantasy origin story – Alexandra ‘Lexi’ Belarus’s life is perfectly normal until she’s attacked by a knife-wielding psychopath and rescued by A Mysterious Figure who promptly disappears afterward, only to turn up later when Lexi is, again, in need of life-saving. It turns out the Mysterious Figure is a gargoyle – Stanis – who was created by her great-great-grandfather Alexander Belarus, who was, as Stanis (and Alexander’s impressive personal historical library) explains, was a Spellmason. He had mystical power over stone, and was responsible for the creation of the creature known as Stanis, who is bound to very strict rules whereby he must protect the Belarus bloodline at any cost – up to and including sacrificing himself to do so.

All of this is very handy indeed, given that someone is out to kill the newest heir to the Belarus family fortune and its business. Yep, Lexi’s still in trouble…

YOU GOTTA HAVE FRIENDS

Here’s where things get fresh. (No, not like THAT.) One of the main things I enjoyed about Alchemystic is the central cast of characters and their group dynamic. No annoying, hand-wringing, cardboard-cutout followers here – Lexi’s friends are useful to her. Even better, one is a geek. A useful geek.
Marshall Blackmoore is into live-action roleplaying. He’s in a D&D group – and even this certificate of his geekness proves to be useful, when Lexi and company are standing over the mangled body of Lexi’s first attacker and explaining their presence to a cop:

“See that spatter? That’s from impact. Whoever he was, he fell from at least ten stories.”
I stared at him.
“What?” he asked.
“How does your brain even come up with that?”
He shrugged, then looked away. “I had a cruel Dungeon Master in my D and D group. He made us work hard for every experience point. Lots of puzzle solving in our games. I can’t help but think critically in a time like this.”

Thinking critically proves to be what Marshall does best, and I found him to be an enjoyable and entirely welcome part of the core group of characters in this book. (Geeky aside: the dude even brings rope on a part of Lexi’s quest later in the book. ROPE, people. I approve SO MUCH.)

And if Marshall’s enjoyable, then Aurora ‘Rory’ Torres is truly fanworthy. She’s petite, cute, and blonde. And she kicks butt. Well and truly kicks it. Her attitude to the adventure that they undertake, particularly to the danger that Lexi’s put in by their enemies, is as practical as Marshall’s – but in a very different way, as is demonstrated when Marshall calls her ‘cold’ for her lack of sympathy for the obvious mauling that the ‘victim’ in the park suffered:

“…When someone who takes a swipe at my best friend turns up dead, I’m sorry, but I really don’t mourn their loss … I just think if it’s us or them, I prefer that we’re the survivors.”

Rory is a voice of such reason while Lexi is, literally from the start, more inclined to indulge her emotions, and she provides invaluable physical backup that compliments well Marshall’s “critical thinking”. When Lexi discovers and begins to explore her own talent as a Spellmason, that voice of reason is especially clear, providing us with food for thought about whether or not Lexi should use the spells and abilities she has before properly exploring her strength. There’s also the question of whether she should attempt to use her magic upon Stanis himself the way she does …

As he ought to, Stanis becomes the most fascinating of Lexi’s three friends as the book progresses. Alchemystic opens with a short chapter told from the gargoyle’s perspective (and switches between his POV and Lexi’s from there, but more on that in a bit), and in it he can remember very little of his life, or about the world around him, modern or otherwise. All he is certain of are The Rules. He was made to protect, and it’s this rule that ultimately drives him. Though he and Lexi grow closer as the story goes on and they both discover more about each other (and themselves), the Rules don’t change. Through the course of the story, right up to the final confrontation with the mastermind behind the attacks on Lexi, his number one priority is her safety.

SENSE, AND SENSIBILITY

In so many urban fantasy stories, two such protagonists might normally (typically?) discover a romantic connection. The possibility of such a thing is mentioned in passing here as Lexi considers said possibility, but her thoughts are dismissed as quickly as they occur to her. Lexi’s priority is using her Spellmason’s power to restore his patchy memories (and more…). In her own way, her goal is as unshakeable as the Rules that Stanis is bound to obey. Anything romantic would only distract them both.

YAY FOR LEXI.

Ahem.

WHAT A WORLD…

Anton Strout has clearly gone for a Gothic approach to his setting with this book, and I’m pleased to see that it works incredibly well. Always an undertone, never a ‘theme’, though there are sly-grin moments here and there that I must take my hat off to Strout for. Most notable of these is the Halloween party attended by the gang whilst on their quest. They take a real live gargoyle to a Halloween party. And everyone falls for the ‘costume’. Hah, I thought. That won’t last. It never lasts.

Props to Mr Strout, he apparently knew it too. By the end of the book, Lexi’s previously (almost painfully) unaware parents are much more aware of the truth of their family history, and Lexi’s power as a Spellmason. Another deft and highly admirable touch by the author is the inclusion of Lexi’s father as something more than a mere background figure. We first meet Douglas Belarus at his firstborn son’s funeral, and it seems clear that what matters most to him is upholding family traditions – most namely the family business – whether
Lexi likes it or not (she doesn’t). He’s a very religious man, but what’s interesting about this (more props to Strout for handling it so well) is what’s at the root of his belief in God.

But that there’s another spoiler. You want to know? Read the book.

SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT

Alchemystic is unique again for being written from both the POV of Lexi and Stanis, with several switches back and forth between the two at certain points in the story. Most of the tale is told from Lexi’s perspective, but we get some very interesting scenes narrated by the gargoyle who protects her – most often in cases where he’s doing just that. Seeing the ‘Rules’ obeyed from the point of view of the inhuman creature obeying them is a rather deft touch, and as Stanis begins to regain his missing memories, the emotional impact of these scenes only grows stronger.

LEMME SUM UP

I love the characters. They’re intelligent. They think things through. No one screams and cries or trips and twists an ankle. YAY.

The Spellmason magic is intriguing, and like Lexi, I want to know more. This means waiting for Book Two? Aw, okay. Twist my arm, then.

With Alchemystic, Anton Strout has brought something unique, fresh and exciting to the urban fantasy table. I want more. Heck, I want to re-read. This means “win”.

5 thoughts on “Old Man’s War: Review

  1. I do have my eye on The Human Division, and I recently read (and loved!) The Ghost Brigades. I fully intend to keep reading this series, and I have Redshirts waiting on my Kindle for when I’m up to speed on OMW. Thanks for your comments!

  2. One of my favorite books and definitely Scalzi’s best. That being said, I like all the books in this series very much. I’m excited that he is now back to the OMW universe, releasing each chapter of his forthcoming book, The Human Division, episodically over the course of several weeks starting this coming Tuesday! I’ve read the first and it is a great return to the world he created in this book. Do take the time to read the others at some point, you won’t be disappointed. I hope anyway. 🙂

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