Book Tour Review: Death of an Alchemist by Mary Lawrence

Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Title: Death of an Alchemist
Author: Mary Lawrence
Genre: mystery, historical fiction
Series: Biance Goddard #2
Pages: 304
Published: January 2016
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

In the mid sixteenth century, Henry VIII sits on the throne, and Bianca Goddard tends to the sick and suffering in London's slums, where disease can take a life as quickly as murder. . .

For years, alchemist Ferris Stannum has devoted himself to developing the Elixir of Life, the reputed serum of immortality. Having tested his remedy successfully on an animal, Stannum intends to send his alchemy journal to a colleague in Cairo for confirmation. Instead he is strangled in his bed and his journal is stolen.

As the daughter of an alchemist herself, Bianca is well acquainted with the mystical healing arts. As her husband, John, falls ill with the sweating sickness, she dares to hope Stannum's journal could contain the secret to his recovery. But first she must solve the alchemist's murder. As she ventures into a world of treachery and deceit, Stannum's death proves to be only the first in a series of murders--and Bianca's quest becomes a matter of life and death, not only for her husband, but for herself. . .

The second tale in Lawrence's series about the impoverished but talented chemiste and amateur sleuth Bianca Goddard, this mystery is an involving and often surprising read. Death of an Alchemist moves along quite quickly at its plotting, and wastes no time setting the scene.  It's a detailed read, and that fact coupled with its relative short length of about three hundred pages, makes it feel like a quick jaunt back to the mid-sixteenth century with an eclectic and suspicious group of individuals.

Even without the benefit of reading the series opening book, The Alchemist's Daughter, Lawrence ably inducts both new and familiar readers into the mysterious death of a successful and eccentric alchemist, the inciting event of the novel's plot. Bianca herself is introduced readily and shown to be a woman of resolve, intelligence, and determination. She can feel like a bit of an anachronism -- I appreciate her clause of marriage to not be property of John but find it terribly unlikely in real 1543 -- but I liked her agency and her resolute and ambitious nature.

Bianca's exploits into uncovering the real murderer is an eventful one. The author is careful to lead Bianca and co on a merry chase and to not make the overall answer an easy or obvious one. Through Southwark to Gull Hole, from old enemies to new allies, the stalwart chemiste shows all sides of London, while subtly commenting on the novels themes of family, immortality, and mob mentality. The main antagonist of the novel is the murderer behind the deaths of the alchemist and others, but the spectre of the sweating sickness hovering over the populace makes for another layer of suspense.

I did want more personality and life from the characters. Bianca is the most stand out, but I felt little presence from any of the (mostly) men that surround her. Additionally, I am not sure what the connection the Rat Man really has to the story in Death of an Alchemist. Perhaps his importance is to the series overall and not to just one book's particular plot, but his addition here did not really feel necessary. The book itself can be a bit stiff -- the dialogue is often, and parts of the narrative -- but overall Death of an Alchemist a good, solid effort and an entertaining read.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 21
Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, March 22
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book
Guest Post at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Wednesday, March 23
Review at A Book Geek

Thursday, March 24
Interview at Books and Benches

Friday, March 25
Review at Book Nerd
Interview at The Book Connection

Tuesday, March 29
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Wednesday, March 30
Review at A Holland Reads

Thursday, March 31
Interview at Author Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Friday, April 1
Guest Post at Passages to the Past

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