by Jeannie Lin
Published by: Penguin
Genres: Historical Fiction, Steampunk
In 1842, the gunpowder might of China’s Qing Dynasty fell to Britain’s steam engines. Furious, the Emperor ordered the death of his engineers—and killed China’s best chance of fighting back… Since her father’s execution eight years ago, Jin Soling kept her family from falling into poverty. But her meager savings are running out, leaving her with no choice but to sell the last of her father’s possessions—her last memento of him. Only, while attempting to find a buyer, Soling is caught and brought before the Crown Prince. Unlike his father, the Emperor, the Prince knows that the only chance of expelling the English invaders is to once again unite China’s cleverest minds to create fantastic weapons. He also realizes that Soling is the one person who could convince her father’s former allies—many who have turned rebel—to once again work for the Empire. He promises to restore her family name if she’ll help him in his cause. But after the betrayal of her family all those years ago, Soling is unsure if she can trust anyone in the Forbidden City—even if her heart is longing to believe in the engineer with a hidden past who was once meant to be her husband…
I love steampunk and was excited at the idea of exploring China’s Qing Dynasty. In Gunpowder Alchemy, the first in the Gunpowder Chronicles, Jeannie Lin introduces a strong heroine and captivating storyline filled with steampunk goodness, adventure and a slow-building romance.
While Jeannie Lin admits to taking some liberties this historical, alternative fiction captures the atmosphere and customs of the period while weaving in steampunk fantasy. Beautifully descriptive from opium addiction to gunpowder-powered ships I completely slipped into this world.
Eight years ago, the Emperor executed Jin Soling’s father, an engineer when he spoke out for the need to learn and progress like their enemies. His name was stricken from the history books and Jin and her family were banished from Peking. The country soon fell to the enemy.
Jin Soling and her family have suffered; her mother has succumb to the addictive escape offered by opium and the country is occupied. Jin is such a strong character, and I immediately connected with her. She takes great care to protect her brother, mother and a former maid who has become family. She shadowed the local doctor and learned the art of acupuncture. When the economy takes a turn, she is forced to sell the last possession she has hidden of her fathers. She travels to the city and finds herself in trouble when she is captured and sent before the Crown Prince. The tale that unfolds is richly detailed, filled with discovery, danger and encounters with her past.
Gunpowder Alchemy was a brilliant tale that captured my attention from the first pages. Well-paced with twists, turns and an unexpected slow building romance I simply did not want the story to end. Jin is faced with having to decide where her loyalties lie and with whom she can trust. She is a strong, likeable heroine. While she is not sure of the players, she is logical, quick thinking, compassionate and sure of herself. Chang-wei, once betrothed to Jin before her father’s execution is now working for the Crown Prince. The friendship that develops was a wonderful thread, and I loved the slow-build, and banter. The romance is subtle, clean, sweet and moving. Lin allowed this thread to develop while balances the danger, political maneuvers and progress of the overall arc. I am quite curious about the opium trade and discoveries Jin made concerning it. It added a dangerous element to the power struggles and I look forward to learning more. Jeannie Lin weaved in details about the countryside, and the cities from customs to the richly colored clothes. I could smell the food, feel the wind in my hair, and experienced the calm personalities of these private, traditional people.
Battles, to narrow escapes from death Chang-wei and Jin’s adventures gave me one heck of a ride. The ending wrapped up in a good place, with just enough of a hint of things to come. I closed Gunpowder Alchemy with a smile and eager to begin the next adventure in the Gunpowder Chronicles.
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