Illustration to article on alchemy in Southern Cross Review.
June 11, 2013

Steampunk Alchemists

I generally prefer military science fiction to fantasy, except for Tolkien and the Harry Potter books, so I rarely venture into things like steampunk. However, I was in Barnes and Noble and I saw this volume, so naturally, I went home and downloaded it from Amazon onto my Kindle.*

*Yes, I know that's terrible, and it will probably drive B&N out of business. Kindle books are generally cheaper, and they take up less space, so some books go the Kindle route, and others get bought. I'm afraid that I mostly get coffee and pastries at the in-store Starbucks, and magazines when I go to B&N.

The story is set in 1903, and people travel in dirigibles, though the Wright brothers are working on alternate form of transportation. The world is divided into the forces of light (science) and shadow (occult forces and beings). So we have nightwalkers (vampires) and werewolves and alchemists. The daughter of a scientist gets involved with a man who is pursuing what turns out to be a conspiracy of alchemists.

Unfortunately, despite the author's claim that she had extensive editorial help, she makes at least one glaring mistake. She has the girl using a pistol, and gives this description:

“Her fingers trembled slightly as she picked out the rounds from the paper box of ammunition wrapped in the folds of the cloth, and loaded the gun. The chamber slipped shut with a satisfying click. She moved the safety lock into place.”*

*Schwarz, Liesel (2013-03-05). A Conspiracy of Alchemists: Book One in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow (Kindle Locations 1445-1447). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Now I grant you that she hasn't specified what kind of gun the girl is using, but it is 1903, and the gun is supposed to be a Colt. It's fairly reasonable to assume that the author is thinking of the .45 caliber semi-automatic. Now the problem with that is that the model is also known as the 1911A. 1911, that's the year it was first made. Second, assuming that the gun is not a semi-automatic, it has to be a revolver, so it doesn't have a safety. In all fairness, the Webley-Fosbery revolver in use from 1900-15 had a safety, but the girl is using a Colt, which doesn't.

I'm also not much of a fan of romance novels of the Harlequin type. Those strike me as being semi-pornographic scribblings for unsatisfied women. So when I come across a passage such as this:

“Her whole body filled with languid electricity as his words passed over her. He was difficult to resist when he behaved like this. And it was dangerous. They were affectionate friends and she would have to take care not to let any of her fanciful thoughts show.”*

*Schwarz, Liesel (2013-03-05). A Conspiracy of Alchemists: Book One in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow (Kindle Locations 2382-2383). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I'm afraid that my instinct is to retch. There are other, lengthier passages than this one, also of a similar quality.

I may read the next one, which is due out in August, but I think I'll need some 1800 reposado, or 18 year old Macallan to help the numb pain as I read.

Next up, the long awaited final volume in Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy, Guns at Last Light, which carries the action from D-Day to V-E Day.