The Accidental Alchemist

The Accidental Alchemist - Gigi Pandian

(I got an ARC through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

An interesting premise, but one I had trouble stayed focused on, and I just could never push myself to read more than a chapter or two before switching to something else.

The first chapters, with Dorian popping into Zoe's life, his predicament, the book that needed deciphering, hinted at a good modern fantasy story. Unfortunately, the mystery that followed was too flat, and took too long to properly unveil. It could have been more of an adventure, yet it wasn't. There wasn't even that many alchemical concepts and knowledge to munch on.

I'd chalk a large part of this to the main character going around in circles about some things, always recalling her ability with plants, how she was not a night person, needed her healthy foods, etc. There was more cooking and vegan recipes than actual alchemy here. I know they say alchemy kind of started in the kitchen and all that, but the metaphor didn't bring much to the story for me. I mean, it's the Accidental Alchemist, not the Accidental Cook, so...

In turn, the sense of urgency got lost somewhere along the road. After a murder and another murder attempt, with Zoe having the potential to be seen either as the culprit or as the next victim, I would have expected more tension. When clues finally started appearing, and Zoe at last started taking them into account, I was past caring, and just wanted to finish the novel to see if Dorian could be saved.

The ending, by the way, was too rushed to my liking. I don't have anything against McGuffins and McGuffin-plots used to introduce deeper, larger stakes; but I tend to feel frustrated when a story begins with such a plot, goes on reminding us regularly that it's important, then brings a quick resolution after having focused on something completely different. It just makes me stop caring. (I'll be honest, though, and mention that while I was reading this book, I was also reading another one that suffered from the exact same problem of "rushed ending"; I suppose they slightly "tainted" each other for me in that regard.)

(A minor quibble as well regarding Dorian's speech patterns: speaking as a French expat living in the UK, seeing bits of French thrown in the middle of sentences is definitely weird. Whole sentences or exclamations, all right—it's only natural to start speaking in your own language, before remembering you should switch to another one. But in my own experience, when this happens, we usually tend to stop and start again in English. For instance, I haven't heard any other French expat finishing an English sentence with "n'est-ce pas", so when the character did it, it kind of felt like "Hey, here's a reminder I'm French". Not needed in my opinion.)

On the bright side, I still think the basic idea was great, and I liked Dorian's character in general, as well as the questions his existence raised: how he came to be, sure, but also how other people perceived him. When he recounted having to pass for a disfigured man who only worked for blind cooks and refused to let anyone else in the room, so that he could do what he loved without people freaking out, that was awfully sad—and a bit reminiscent of relationships such as the ones between Frankenstein's monster and De Lacey. I always like when similar themes arise in a story (even though it was underexploited here).