Zoey has travelled to Paris to try and find some answers to Dorian’s condition before the gargoyle turns completely to stone. But she finds few answers – and worse, seems to be recognised as the alchemist who lived their 70 years before
Fleeing back to Portland, trouble seems to have followed her. She may have finally found the backward Alchemists she has been looking for, but they’re not as helpful as she’d hoped – and may present a whole new risk as well as bringing revelations about her past she never imagined.
I think this book improved on many of the issues of the previous book. The storylines that Zoey was involved in actually made sense. She had a reason to get involved in the murder investigation, she was personally invested either directly or indirectly in all of the events that took place. She either had to protect friends and people she cared about or she was directly affected as it was a threat to her and her alchemical secret
This made the whole thing a lot more interesting especially as we build on more of Zoey’s past, her relationship with Ambrose as old figures from her past come back to haunt her. It fills in more gaps and also really develops the nature of Alchemy and the concept of Backward Alchemy. I really like the revelation that Zoey has here about Backward Alchemy – the whole idea that, ultimately, Alchemy is really really hard work. Alchemy take study, dedication and a lot of work and research. Backwards Alchemy isn’t so much evil or wrong or broken as much as it is lazy – it’s the ultimate short cut which leads Zoey to question whether she is actually going to find any solutions from Backwards Alchemy. Which in turn comes with a whole lot of soul searching and the creeping, horrible realisation of what it may actually take to save Dorian… and whether that is worth it.
The antagonists come with a lot of twists back and forth – assumptions are challenged and challenged again and then challenged again. We also get some really difficult positions when we see friends of Zoey make difficult, painful decisions and face terrible moral quandaries… and fall short. And I like that. Far too often in books characters seem almost impossibly good. They are willing to sacrifice everything, they’re willing to drop their hopes even their own survival for the greater good. Sometimes people just aren’t that perfect – especially when it comes to life and death. I like the clarity of the conflict there.
There are still parts that, for me, don’t make sense. She talks about the persecution of alchemists in the past and the need for secrecy but there’s no real bringing that up to date. Why would she believe that would happen today? Especially since she says she loves Portland precisely because it is so new agey and accepting. Equally, there’s a whole side plot where she desperately flees France because an old woman claims she remembers Zoey when she was a small child. This is a reason to run?