Book review – The Alchemist’s Revenge
The Alchemist’s Revenge is the first novel by Peter Cakebread, one half of the team Cakebread and Walton, fine purveyors of Role Playing Games, namely Clockwork and Chivalry, Pirates and Dragons, Renaissance and Airship Pirates.
This novel is based on the universe of Clockwork and Chivalry, a dark time in England’s 17th century, with a civil war raging and the forces of clockwork battling against the forces of magic and alchemy. Royalists fight and battle Parliamentarians and they occupy the land our heroes, reluctant as they might be, must traverse.
When a grieving widow hires a disgruntled and bitter mercenary to accompany her to the grave of her late husband, a journey that should be simple enough becomes plagued with more dangers they could have all expected. Reunited with old friends and stalked by ruthless enemies and a very dark past, they band together to overcome challenges that are, quite frankly, terrifying. Like the whole setting actually is.
This book is published by Delta 14 Publishing and, at least the book I received, is a print on demand version. The softback has been very, very well bound, no pages will come off that book anytime soon, I must say. The cover is thick enough and the paper is a little bit on the thin side, but it won’t tear when you flip the pages.
Let’s get out of the way the only thing about this book that’s not all that great. It’s not bad, but it’s not great: The art direction and graphic design. Yes, believe it or not, novels also use graphic design. The cover, although is attractive enough, it doesn’t really give away much about the novel, the setting or anything. If you saw this book in a bookshelf in a library, you’d have no idea what’s like. Again, is not bad looking, but it’s not great.
The interior also lacks of a bit of TLC. Although the font is big enough, it needs a bit more space to breathe around the page. The numbers and title of the book is a bit too close together for my liking, and a bit more separation between paragraphs wouldn’t go amiss. Once the eye gets used to it, the book is easy enough to read, but it takes a few pages to get the eye trained to follow the lines and it can be irritating for the first few pages.
Thank goodness those little niggles don’t last long as the story quickly drives you in and you just want to know what happens next. Even though the plot is not epic and it seems quite simple from the start, the pace is well set since the beginning and the plot twists are interesting enogh without being mind boggling. It doesn’t start too quickly and Cakebread doesn’t spare any effort to describe the environments to give a clear picture of what’s going on and where. From the point of view of someone who lives in England (that’d be me) it is lovely to see the description of pubs and locations that still echo in the walls of buildings and streets to this day. There is a sense of familiarity and enough richness in the prose to allow you to imagine the locations rather vividly. A huge plus for me!
The characters also take some time to fall into place and the best bit about them is that the don’t try to be likeable. They all have their own agenda and personalities, including their own reasons to be there, and they stick to them, even if that makes them look stupid, selfish or arrogant. The author hasn’t tried to soften the attitude of anyone just to make you like them. And yet, as you get to know the characters, almost without realising you can understand the true reasons behind their reactions, you can see behind the mask while the other characters stay with the surface. Very cleverly done!
Throughout the whole book there’s a feeling of tension; an unease sensation that come from the fact that the protagonists can’t relax. Every person they cross can be a foe, everything they do can turn against them and every location is unsafe. And yet it’s perfectly congruous with the war environment. I can see the 17th century being something very similar to this.
The fantastic elements are also there and in good measure. I mean this in all the senses of the expression. There is plenty of Alchemy and Clockwork and there are a lot of questions that are left unanswered about both areas. This is probably the one thing I can imagine would frustrate some people. As much as we are all used to the idea of Magic in fantasy setting, mechanical wonders are less common and this book doesn’t offer anything on its origins or ideas on how the work. There’s a some interaction between the heroes and some clockwork designers and the door into that room is ajar, so you can see a bit, but not enough to lift the mystery. The magic is catered for as one of the characters is a magic wielder and she manages to pull some punches very nicely thanks to it.
This is very much a roleplaying game adventure novel. If you are familiar with role playing games, you’ll easily see yourself around a table rolling your dice as the adventure progresses, and you’ll probably want to run this novel as an adventure too. From that point of view is perfect.
This novel is also brutal. There’s plenty of violence, plenty of gore and plenty of unpleasantness. This is not a fluffy pink novel. At all. This is not to say that the author rejoices in it, just that it doesn’t shy away and tells it how it is.
I must admit that at the start I had difficulties getting into the book because of the weak layout, however a few pages in I found myself enjoying this book a lot. The drama and tension are very high and keep you gripped very tightly as events unravel.
Though the plot is not demanding (at all) the author’s knowledge of the whole universe is such that describing the right elements to get you interested comes very naturally. Most importantly, what he describes is, somehow, familiar and it’s easy to “see” what’s going on. It’s a world so full of adventure you can see the possibilities.
I do wish the publisher had a more cohesive art direction between the book and the game itself. I think that linking both lines of product visually would go a long way to help people buy the other. At the very least, get a cover artwork that is more consistent with the contents of the book.
The best bit is that this novel leaves you wanting to play the game it’s based on. Maybe that’s because I like RPGs so much and I can see the RPG adventure elements in this novel that it attracts me so much, or maybe that’s because the world this is set in is very inviting and interesting from all angles. I don’t know… the fact is that it makes me want to be a part of it, and that has to count for something. And now I want to read more, so I hope there are more coming.
Recommended book and one that promises a great future for this author!
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