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These are the chronicles of a book addict, a photo junkie, and an aspiring author, rewriting the very fabric of reality one page (and one snapshot) at a time. From the strange to the unusual; the abandoned to the abnormal; the haunted to the historic; the supernatural to the surreal; the forests of dark fantasy, the cemeteries of gothic horror, and the post-apocalyptic ruins of science fiction are the landscapes of my imagination.
An odd mix of urban fantasy and supernatural horror, with a strong heroine, a kick-ass coyote familiar, and a fascinating villain, all adds up to one of the more refreshingly unusual reads I've enjoyed in a long time. Unlike so many books in the genre, Dark Alchemy isn't concerned with saving the world, defeating the ultimate evil, or consummating the perfect paranormal romance. Instead, what Laura Bickle has crafted here is a story of weird people, weird history, and weird science, all told on a rather intimate scale that keeps the action focused and compact.
Bickle starts throwing mysteries at us right from the first page, offering just enough hints to really intrigue the reader. What's up with the two strange skeletons found in the field? What secrets are Sal protecting? What is Petra running from? What's with the odd coyote and its buried treasure? Why does such a small hick town have so many hick tweakers? What's up with drunken Frankie and his talk of prophetic ravens? What's the deal with Gabriel, a man who seems older and wiser than even his quick-healing flesh would suggest? Just how do Sal's secrets line up with Gabe's, and what do ravens and coyotes have to do with it all?
And that's just the first four chapters.
Yes, there's a bit of a Gunslinger feel to this, as the cover blurb teases, and it's easy to see the Breaking Bad element, but it's the small town Twin Peaks oddness to the town of Temperance that pulls it all together. I really liked the idea of The Hanged Men, led by mysterious Gabe, and Luneria (the Alchemical Tree of Life) was a very cool element that was incorporated into the story in ways I didn't really expect. Petra's story alone could have made for a decent book, and setting her against Sal could have made for an interesting conflict, but it's the addition of these supernatural, alchemical elements that really elevates the story to the next level. Petra and Gabe were, by far, my favorite characters in the story, and despite being a stereotypical villain based on the oft-used trope of the corrupt small-town landowner, I still loved the scene-chewing grandeur of Sal.
Dark Alchemy plays with the typical urban fantasy tropes, but puts a unique spin on them all. The magic and the mystery are the hook, but the characters are what will keep you reading. It's a fast-paced adventure, with something significant happening in every chapters, all racing towards a suitably epic climax that satisfyingly ties up all the loose ends . . . but which leaves the door open just a crack for another adventure.