Release Date: November 18, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Adult Steampunk
In 1842, the gunpowder might of China’s Qing Dynasty fell to Britain’s steam engines. Furious, the Emperor ordered the death of his engineers—and killed China’s best chance of fighting back…
Since her father’s execution eight years ago, Jin Soling kept her family from falling into poverty. But her meager savings are running out, leaving her with no choice but to sell the last of her father’s possessions—her last memento of him.
Only, while attempting to find a buyer, Soling is caught and brought before the Crown Prince. Unlike his father, the Emperor, the Prince knows that the only chance of expelling the English invaders is to once again unite China’s cleverest minds to create fantastic weapons. He also realizes that Soling is the one person who could convince her father’s former allies—many who have turned rebel—to once again work for the Empire. He promises to restore her family name if she’ll help him in his cause.
But after the betrayal of her family all those years ago, Soling is unsure if she can trust anyone in the Forbidden City—even if her heart is longing to believe in the engineer with a hidden past who was once meant to be her husband…
Includes a preview of the second book in the Gunpowder Chronicles.
GUNPOWDER ALCHEMY by Jeannie Lin kicked serious ass! It's Chinese Steampunk y'all! I am loving the cultural diversity I'm seeing in this genre and I want more of it! I read somewhere that Steampunk's defined as either set in Victorian England or Wild West America with exaggerated industrial devices and inventions. That definition has evolved since and we've seen French, Bollywood, Japanese, and now Chinese versions of this very unique, high powered, and technologically driven fantasy sub-genre. It's still more or less set in the mid-late 19th century but England and America doesn't have monopoly on the genre anymore. Exciting developments don't ya think?!
When I was presented GUNPOWDER ALCHEMY I was both excited and hesitant. Excited because it's Chinese Steampunk y'all! and hesitant because the Chinese culture has a certain air of exclusivity to it and I was unsure if I can grasp the unfamiliar history, demographic, and other cultural aspects intelligently (Hello! Remember The Time Roads?? *facepalm*). I'm pleased to report that I got acclimated to the story real well and it ended up being such a page turner.
The world building was set during the Opium War, which if you recall was a trade war between England and China, and it provided such an awesome backdrop for GUNPOWDER ALCHEMY. There's unrest everywhere, the political scene is tense, loyalties are tested and questioned, rebellions abound, pirates galore, it has a colorful cast of characters. Soling Jin's father used to be the Emperor's sort of chief engineer unfortunately, he lost the first war against the Westerns which got him killed, his family displaced, and his name dishonored. Since her father's death, Soling became the breadwinner of the family working as a physician's apprentice. I like Soling, she's normal, average even, she's a quick study and has some street smarts that got her in some very interesting situations. Soling is a clever chick but she's not the badass heroine, not yet anyways although I have a feeling she will be as the story progress. Right now she's a little hesitant and she's right to do so as it's still unclear at this point who the good and bad guys are.
I also loved the political intricacies of GUNPOWDER ALCHEMY, the current ruling monarchy is very vulnerable because of the initial loss they suffered against the Westerns, who's still a threat to the Empire. The climate of the land is volatile, the Prince is rounding up an old team formerly led by Soling's dad but a few of them have turned into quite the unsavory characters. Then there are pirates, rebels, and the Prince's old man dying. So vulnerable they're easy picking for the Westerns IMO. My favorite is its cultural aspect, it added a lot of flavor to the story, I felt I was in China with Soling experiencing her adventures with her.
GUNPOWDER ALCHEMY has so much to offer from beginning to end, the pace was fast but not hurried, just enough time to feel things out. There are a substantial amount of characters but JLin didn't parade them like it's a pageant, we actually get to have adequate time with each important player, get their vibe, and position them accordingly in the story. I do find the reunion part very interesting between Soling and her father's former team and the anecdotal stories shared about her parents and Soling herself when she was a child were melancholic. GUNPOWDER ALCHEMY isn't a long novel, it's under 300 pages but it's packed with the good stuff. On a personal note, I prefer Steampunk with supernatural or magical elements as the lack of it sometimes bore me. That's not the case here, no magic just alchemy and lots of action. If you're a Steampunk fan you'd be wise to add this to your TBR, the sooner you read it, the better.
You're welcome :)