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The Alchemist’s Theorem is the first book by indie author Margaret Chiavetta and one aimed at middle-grade readers.
While I don’t normally read and review children’s / middle-grade fantasy books (out side of some of the older classics like Chronicles of Narnia and The Amber Spyglass), I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Margaret Chiavetta’s first book. I feel the book succeeds quite well in telling an delightfully enchanting tale for a younger audience.
The story follows Mendel, a young boy of uncertain origin and parentage, and his alchemical teacher, Sir Duffy. Both heroes get dragged into a series of unexpected events with the fate of the world placed in their hands (literally). There’s adventure, there’s action, there’s magic, there’s a world to save, and there’s poisonous pixies to kill.
Mendel, the protagonist, has a form of autism — while he’s social awkward and somewhat odd to be around for other kids, he has the remarkable ability to memorize and recall everything he sees. He’s a likable child protagonist that you can easily follow along with. I suspect kids will love reading about his adventure.
The writing was good, and the plot (even as a book targeting younger readers) was enough to keep me interested until the end. I note here that if I enjoyed at as an adult reader, then less discerning children will find a lot to love in The Alchemist’s Theorem.
The strongest part of Chiavetta’s work is the world building: the world of Terra Copia is an interesting and thoroughly magical landscape to read about.
The author populates the mysterious land with strange magical creatures like sentient horses, talking rabbits, poisonous pixies, and even killer plants. The magical system itself is highly connected to the world: everything in this strange land — tree bark, dead pixies, slime can be harvested and mixed with other materials to produce something new — either as a curative or to produce a magical effect. It’s a system that makes the world all the more magical because, well, everything in the world can be used to produce some effect. It’s chemistry, but of the magical type.
To me, this system of magic almost reminded me of what it’s like to play a Bethesda RPG video game (such as Skyrim) where your character wanders into a forest on top of a hill, kills some magical creature with your sword, then extract an alchemical component from the corpse that you can use to craft something or imbue your character with some magical property. The net result of the everything in this world having a magical property you can utilize makes it just the sort of place your kids will want to read about — it’s full of untapped possibilities and wonderful adventure just over the hill or beneath that cusp of woods.
+ The world building, as noted, is quite good with an interesting magic system. Both the world and the magic system give the world a nice mysterious magical feeling to it. The fact the anything and everything has an alchemical, while unoriginal in terms of being unique as magic systems go, works well for this story.
+ The writing was, overall, good. Even as an indie fantasy release, this book has strong easy-to-follow prose, correct grammar, and a good pace. I really didn’t haven’t any complaints with the writing or narrative as a whole — and for Middle-Grade readers it targets, the writing is works just fine.
+ The characters are cute and fun to read about: Mendel, the autistic protagonist and Sir Duffy, the common-born alchemist trying to do the right thing and perhaps just saving the world in the process. Both characters have a strong, almost familial relationship with Sir Duffy sort of taking on a surrogate father role to the young Mendel.
+The adventures and story is easy to read and age appropriate for Middle Grade readers. There is nothing complex or subverting about this tale and as such, it’s a pretty easy to follow adventure for the kids.
– The pacing was a bit off in some part of the book — I found the story dragged in some parts and in other parts moved too fast. It’s not anything that I feel seriously detracts from the story as a whole (and the book itself is not too long), but the inconsistent pacing is something to point out.
– The plot is pretty simplistic — classic save the world from evil plot and have adventures along the way. Again, considering the reader age target, not necessary a bad thing but this locks the story at a younger readership only.
– The characterization felt a bit flat in the book. While the book is aimed at Middle Graders, not adult readers looking for complex and developed characters, I did feel the characters were two dimensional. Sir Duffy, particularly, didn’t come off as a realistic adult character, but more like a kid in his actions and interactions, than a grown up in full control of himself.
– The naming scheme for animals/creatures in the world, while cute, I found confusing. Cappamorph, Gusselsnuff, and other such names populate the book. While they are not bad names necessary, they are odd names. This may be a personal complaint but I felt the naming scheme didn’t work too well.
Flaws aside, I enjoyed The Alchemist’s Theorem especially considering it’s a) an indie debut fantasy and b) it’s aimed at kids. With those two qualifications in mind, the book succeeds in telling an entertaining tale for the kids without stumbling along the way.
The book looks to offers something in the way of a simpler Harry Potter story for kids, and I felt the author did succeed at this for most part: Young, misunderstood protagonist of uncertain origin. Check. Boy learns about magic in a (somewhat) school setting. Check. Strange, mysterious magical world full of creatures. Check. Ancient threat that must be dealt with. Check.
Overall, it’s an engaging read about a whimsical world that will appeal to middle graders and a good start in what looks to be a new series by author Margaret Chiavetta. In all honestly, it’s probably not a book that adults or teenagers will probably enjoy (unlike say Harry Potter which appealed to both kids, adults, and the kid inside every adult) unless they are looking to scratch an itch for children’s fantasy…but for kids aged between 8 to 11, it’s a good read.
Note, as children’s indie fantasy goes, I’ll probably be adding this to my upcoming Top 25 Best Indie Fantasy Books for the children’s entry on the list.
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings -- cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings' laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha'ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings' mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings' power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don't find her first.
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