An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is Curtis Craddock's delightful and engrossing fantasy debut featuring a genius heroine and her guardian, a royal musketeer, which Brandon Sanderson calls, "A great read!"
Born with a physical disability, no magical talent, and a precocious intellect, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs has lived her life being underestimated by her family and her kingdom. The only person who appreciates her true self is Jean-Claude, the fatherly musketeer who had guarded her since birth.
All shall change, however, when an unlikely marriage proposal is offered, to the second son of a dying king in an empire collapsing into civil war.
But the last two women betrothed to this prince were murdered, and a sorcerer-assassin is bent on making Isabelle the third. Isabelle and Jean-Claude plunge into a great maze of prophecy, intrigue, and betrayal, where everyone wears masks of glamour and lies. Step by dangerous step, Isabelle must unravel the lies of her enemies and discovers a truth more perilous than any deception.
“A setting fabulous and strange, heroes to cheer for, villains to detest, a twisty, tricky plot — I love this novel!” —Lawrence Watt Evans
“A thrilling adventure full of palace intrigue, mysterious ancient mechanisms, and aerial sailing ships!” —David D. Levine
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
Craddock's not-quite-steampunk debut features skyships and clockwork cyborgs, but it occupies a fantasy world rather than an alternate timeline, making it all the more baffling that he chooses to reproduce our world's most disempowering roles for female characters. One dies in childbirth; one is born with physical and magical "deformities," so church, state, and family cast her out; and one has her soul sucked out to punish someone else. Meanwhile, male characters swashbuckle blithely across the skies and plot political mayhem. Jean-Claude, intrepid musketeer, is embroiled in much of this as sworn protector of sad, disabled Princess Isabelle, whose oppression is elaborated but static for 100 pages. Craddock can write, and his worldbuilding shines; he's so effective at reconstituting historical misogyny that by the time the narrative tide shifts slowly, and not far most female readers will likely have fled. A political betrothal to the Principe Julio frees Isabelle from home and makes her narratively interesting enough for other characters to court, compromise, and threaten. But though she escapes many constraints, she never escapes the story's male-centeredness.
A hidden gem in the fantasy genre!
WHY AREN'T MORE PEOPLE READING THIS BOOK?!!
Honestly, I'm shocked that I've been in the Booktube world for 3 years (maybe 4?), watched Booktube even before I started my own channel and I've never heard one peep about this book, its series or the author! I'm stunned.
A heartfelt thank you to my friend Cait, who selected this book for me to read and review, because this was my favorite book of the 9 books I got my nose in for the month. Actually, a better word to describe me after I started this book would be obsessed.
The author did put me off in the first chapter, in fact, I thought it might would join the DNF gang because it was chock full of navigational terms that I was completely ignorant of. Fortunately, we got away from that very quickly (honestly though, it was AIR SHIPS!) and we settled into establishing some world building, science and the kicker that closed the deal on making sure I was completely smitten: the nobility and their blood-borne sorcery.
In addition, I very much enjoyed our cast of characters encountered throughout this tale of mystery, magic, intrigue and alchemy. Most especially, I loved Jean-Claude, a King's Own Musketeer, assigned to protect and aid Princess Isabelle. For those of you who wish for a strong, intellectual female lead character, Curtis Craddock provides in SPADES here with Isabelle.
This is the first fantasy book I've ever read that could actually print on its cover, FOR FANS OF A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. (Except Curtis Craddock doesn't have 40 POVs whilst also killing off all the characters)
Phenomenal read, definitely on my shortlist of being my favorite read of the year. Cannot recommend enough!
The story has wonderfully likable characters living in a rich and vibrant world very different from our own but detailed enough to feel just as real. Best high fantasy book I’ve read in a long time and the only one so far to actually make me fall in love with all the characters. The main heroine acts intelligently and you get a good feel for her character without the need for the author to blatantly state it through the voices of others around her.