This is the second book the Alchemancer series, following on from ‘The Five Elements’. Like that one, this starts with a bang, literally, a mysterious underground explosion in the city of Brighton, just as our heroes from the first book, Aaron, Serena and Ensel Rhe, arrive there, followed almost immediately by demon houndmaster Krosus and his evil pack. In dealing with the hounds, Aaron and Serena manage to get themselves arrested and tossed into the dungeon. It has to be said, the author knows how to drop straight into the action.
the pace lets up just a little, and branches out into multiple point of
view threads to ensure that the plot is nicely stirred. There’s the
airship which featured in the first book, newly arrived for repairs;
there’s a King’s Patroller, whose function I’m not sure about, but he
seems to be a good guy; there’s a disgruntled pyromancer; there’s a
dwarf underworld boss with a beautiful daughter; there’s an old enemy of
Ensel Rhe’s; and there’s a nest of rats-on-steroids under the city, who
wear clothes and wield swords and are definitely bad guys. Well, they
eat people. Oh, and there’s a machine, the Nullification Engine of the
title, which is seriously cool and I can’t wait for the movie to be made
to see exactly what it looks like.
Of the characters, Ensel Rhe
is the most interesting, with his mysterious past and his super-ninja
skills. In the first book, he was rather lightly sketched in, more plot
device than rounded character, but here he gets a lot more screen-time
and a chance to shine. Every scene he was in sizzled with tension. We
learn quite a bit more about him here, which only serves to make him
more intriguing. Aaron, the prodigy applying logic and science to
largely magical artifacts, is also fun, and I loved the way he cracked
the code. Serena worked less well for me. Her conventional upper-class
family setting did nothing to make her interesting (to me), and there
were times when she simply acted in ways that had me rolling my eyes.
Speaking up at the funeral, for instance, and only realising afterwards
that it might be a Bad Idea. And when her former mentor tells her to
stay away from a device, what is the very first thing she does? Doh.
the other characters, they’re nicely drawn and work very well. I
particularly liked the newly introduced Jakinda, a nice fiery character.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing her in action in the next book.
The dwarves were huge fun, too, although why is it dwarves are always
the comic relief? I blame Peter Jackson. But the star character for me
(if I can describe it this way) was the Nullification Engine itself,
which stole the show in every scene it was in, and was a wonderfully
unpredictable and fascinating device.
As with the first book, the
plot rattles along at a breath-taking pace, with an unpredictable twist
in almost every chapter. If I had a beer for every time I muttered
‘Didn’t see THAT coming’ I’d be blind drunk under the table by now. My
only complaint is that I had trouble remembering everything that had
happened in the first book, so I was flummoxed for a while when certain
characters turned up again. A summary would have helped, although to be
perfectly fair, I’m very bad at remembering plots in general, so I have
the same trouble with every series. In other words, my fault, not the
author’s. There’s a list of characters at the front and some good maps,
too, as well as a sprinkle of reminders throughout the story, so I got
past the confusion stage in the end. There was one plot-thread that I
didn’t fully understand, involving Krosus the demon houndmaster and
Ursool the witch; I’m still not sure just how things ended up there, but
again, I suspect it’s just me not paying attention, since everything
else was tied up beautifully, with neat little bows on top.
fun read, very entertaining, with a great ending setting everything up
nicely for the next book. Highly recommended. Four stars.