For years, alchemist Ferris Stannum has devoted himself to developing the Elixir of Life, the reputed serum of immortality. Having tested his remedy successfully on an animal, Stannum intends to send his alchemy journal to a colleague in Cairo for confirmation. Instead he is strangled in his bed and his journal is stolen.
As the daughter of an alchemist herself, Bianca is well acquainted with the mystical healing arts. As her husband, John, falls ill with the sweating sickness, she dares to hope Stannum’s journal could contain the secret to his recovery. But first she must solve the alchemist’s murder. As she ventures into a world of treachery and deceit, Stannum’s death proves to be only the first in a series of murders–and Bianca’s quest becomes a matter of life and death, not only for her husband, but for herself. . .
There's just about nothing I like more than a book with an element of struggles amongst the socio-economic classes. Death of an Alchemist highlights many of these divisions. The differences between the lives of those with money or social status and those without are stark and almost heart-breaking. If you are a 'have', you can get away with just about anything, and if you are a 'have not', you are at the mercy of everything and everybody.
Along comes Bianca, a married woman with knowledge of the healing properties of plants, and daughter of the once-favored alchemist of King Henry VIII. Bianca is a great heroine and role-model for women. She does not let her gender or her standing based on any division stop her from her goals. So, she is a woman - she maintains her healing practice and takes on alchemy. At least the latter study is not known for its acceptance of women in the ranks. She does a fair bit of investigating the crime of murder (of the titular alchemist), a profession also normally closed off to women.
I will say that one of the less savory characters does get his comeuppance for one of his more heinous acts ... but cannot elaborate without giving away a fine bit of story. As in many mysteries, those doing the investigating tend to bring out the anger in those who have committed the crime(s), and Bianca has at least her fair share of danger here too.
While the tone of this book is serious, and rightly so, it brought to mind a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where one peasant says to the other, "How do you know he's a king?" The response? "Because he hasn't got sh*t all over him." We laugh at the line in the movie, but the reality of that statement is not far off the mark for much of history.
I'm also glad Bianca was married throughout the book. Many stories have an element of romance or sexual tension that, while not unappreciated, definitely changes the tone of the book, especially a mystery.
Now I've got to go back and read the first book in the series, The Alchemist's Daughter, and get the beginning of Bianca's story. Long may she practice her healing arts!
MEET THE AUTHOR
Mary Lawrence studied biology and chemistry, graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Cytotechnology. She won the Celtic Heart Golden Claddagh Award for historical fiction, and was a finalist in both the RWA® Golden Heart contest, and the Gotham Young Adult Novel Discovery competition. Along with writing and farming, Lawrence works as a cytologist near Boston. She lives in Maine. The Alchemist’s Daughter is the first book in the Bianca Goddard Mystery series.
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(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my objective review. This post contains affiliate links.)