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'Ashes & Alchemy' shorter format hampers this romantic steampunk mystery

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Ashes & Alchemy by Cindy Spencer Pape


"Ashes & Alchemy" by Cindy Spencer Pape is the sixth book in her "Gaslight Chronicles".

Either the novella format of this story or the author's scant interest in a deeper story make this shorter fiction entry in the Gaslight Chronicles problematic. It is problematic because we barely get a hint of the characters before the story is wrapped up in a neat bow. Given my penchant for longer fiction, I think its more the novella format that lessens the story so if you like shorter fiction, this Victorian steampunk magical romance may be more appealing, as Pape packs a lot into this short fiction entry and it does seem to hit some magical and steampunk high notes.

Minerva Shaw's daughter Ivy is deathly sick. Shaw braves the sooty London streets in this industrial revolution setting without her breathing mask to hunt for a real doctor to treat her girl. But she ends up at the door of Sebastian Brown, a police inspector, who takes pity on the woman and goes to pick up the sick child. Instead they find a murdered friend and a girl covered with soot.

Brown takes Minnie Shaw and Ivy into his home while investigating the murder of the friend and how Ivy got covered with soot. Soon enough romance is afoot between Brown and Shaw.

The mystery of what happened to Ivy seems to involve odd magical experiments at the school she attends. Can the children have been guinea pigs? Some of the kids are dead. How is it that Ivy has survived? It may have something to do with her parentage. Who is her father?

It seems as if Pape cannot help herself by packing the book full of interesting nuggets, which could have been better developed in a book twice as long. Romance, mystery and murder all set in a fully developed victorian steampunk universe.

But its too short to fit all of the pieces in. The story ends to abruptly, the mystery solved nary a red herring.

I received this novella from Netgalley. Its the sixth entry in the Gaslight Chronicles, and although well written seems to be the wrong place to start.


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