Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock (The Risen Kingdom #1)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Tor on August 29, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

A polymath princess and her faithful musketeer must unravel the plot of a thousand-year-old madman in order to save an a foreign kingdom from a disastrous civil war.

  

Curtis Craddock’s AN ALCHEMY OF MASQUES AND MIRRORS is an incredibly accomplished novel, combining various genre-fiction elements to create a story reminiscent of a decidedly more feminist version of The Three Musketeers. 

Born with a deformed hand, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs of l’Empire Celestine would’ve been killed on the day of her birth if it weren’t for the hasty intervention of Jean-Claude, a young King’s Own Musketeer. Charged with protecting the princess, Jean-Claude has stood by her side for more than twenty years, playing the role of the drunkard rather than reveal his shrewd intelligence. But when Isabelle is plucked from obscurity and disgrace to be married to the prince of a foreign nation, the pair will need to do much more than feign ignorance and incompetence to swim in the shark-infested waters of the Aragothic court. Why has Isabelle, reviled for both her deformity and her lack of sorcery, been chosen for this marriage? And is it really an honour…or is it a death sentence?

AN ALCHEMY OF MASQUES AND MIRRORS is by far one of the best, most surprising books I’ve read this year. From the very first chapter to the last, this story had me in its grip and I was desperate to know what would become of our heroes. As with any good historical fantasy set at court, there’s a boatload of intrigue to untangle, and just when I thought I’d figured out who was behind what plot, Craddock pulled the rug out from me. International politics, familial feuds, a shadowy Temple, and individual motives all converge to obscure the truth(s) behind Isabelle’s sudden rise in status. From assassination attempts on airships to political maneuvering at masquerade balls, there isn’t a dull moment to be had as Isabelle and Jean-Claude race to stay ahead of their enemies.

Adding another layer to the complexity of this story is the world building, which is some of the finest I’ve come across in ages. The cultures of French-inspired l’Empire Celestine and Spanish-inspired Aragoth are rich and subtly developed; I never once felt like Craddock relied on info-dumping to establish the political or social landscape that our protagonists were walking (or should I say flying) into. Even the sorcery of these nations is distinct, with l’Empire society ruled by the Sanguinaire blood sorcerers and Aragothic society topped by the mirror-travelling Glasswalkers. The highest ranking Temple officials in both nations also rely on a series of steampunk artifacts imbued with shadowy powers, and I can’t wait to learn more about them in the sequel. What we did see of these magics and devices through Isabelle’s eyes was particularly interesting, as her empirical philosophy-driven mind dissects their components and explains them with a scientific-feeling detail that you don’t often find in fantasy novels.

But as with every great book, it’s the characters in that really make AN ALCHEMY OF MASQUES AND MIRRORS stand out, and Isabelle and Jean-Claude are at its heart. Their surrogate father/daughter relationship is beautiful, heartwarming, and also provides lots of comedic relief after some of the more dire moments. Jean-Claude’s loyalty, love, and pride in Isabelle’s accomplishments are evident throughout the story, and his willingness to sacrifice his personal desires for her safety made me a fierce fan. Isabelle herself relies and dotes upon Jean-Claude despite the fact that he can be something of a political nightmare, standing up for him when others are too willing to be discomfited by his unorthodox tactics. Their warm relationship is a welcome contrast to the scorn and cruelty heaped upon Isabelle by most of society, especially her own biological family. There are hints at other intriguing relationships to be further fleshed out in the sequel, and I for one am dying to see where Craddock takes them. After just reading this, I’m certain he won’t disappoint.

With a twisty plot, fascinating world, witty repartee, and heart, AN ALCHEMY OF MASQUES AND MIRRORS is sure to be a sleeper hit with fantasy readers.

Related Posts

  • This sounds so intriguing! I’ll plan to start reading it this weekend. I really like seeing a well-thought-out magic system, so I’m eager to see what’s in store here!

    • Hooray! I have a feeling you’ll really enjoy it, although I’ll warn you that the world building is a bit intense at first. But I think all the action, magic, and swashbuckling will make up for it for you. 😉

  • I have heard awesome things so yes I want it

  • A feminist three musketeers? Now that sounds unique and certainly interesting!
    I can tell you really enjoyed this book. The world building sounds spectacular, and totally something I can get behind. But I’m most interested in the relationship between Jean-Claude and Isabelle. I love a good father-daughter relationship even if he’s not technically her father.
    Great review, Danya!

    • This is by far one of the most unique stories I’ve read in ages, and I loved the feminist angle to the story. Jean-Claude and Isabelle’s relationship is THE BEST! Honestly I was a bit concerned that they’d have a romantic thing going on based on the synopsis, but I shouldn’t have worried: Craddock is clearly too talented and clever to go the obvious route. Thanks so much, Nick!

  • This was an amazing book, I also gave it five stars. I just can’t believe what an accomplished writer he is! Awesome review, Danya!

    • Oh my god, I know! Craddock is majorly talented. I’m dying to see where he takes these characters and what he does with the magic in the next book! Thanks, Tammy. 🙂

  • Greg Hill

    Flying continents and a gas giant? That’s unique! Lovely cover too. Masquerade balls and political intrigue… love it! The characters sound wonderful. Definitely will add this one, I’m in need of some good fantasy these days as I seem to be getting pickier about that genre.

    • Right? Craddock has created something really unique and layered here. I think you’d love this, actually — the magic system is fantastic. And the characters are great too, especially with Jean-Claude and his rascal with a heart of gold ways and Isabelle’s smarts!

  • I LOVED this one. Every review I’ve seen so far has been very positive as well! Curtis Craddock is definitely going to go places!

    • Me too! I hadn’t really heard much about this book before reading it but I’ve got a feeling this one is going to be a major hit with fantasy readers this year.

  • Karen

    Eeeek. I don’t like fantasy but you always lure me in lol

    For What It’s Worth

  • DANYA! Either I’m going to stop reading your reviews or I’m just going to find a way to auto-add any of your 3star plus reads to my TBR> 🙂 Because that’s pretty much how it’s happening right now!

    This one sounds AMAZING and I’m definitely wanting to read this one. It’s EVERYTHING I love in a book.

    AMAZING REVIEW!

    • DI! Hahaha, you kill me. I’m glad to hear that all my ranting and raving about my favourites is helping others get hyped about reading them, though. This is by far one of the most accomplished and impressive books I’ve read all year – I bet you’ll love it. Thanks so much! 🙂

  • As soon as I saw a high rating for the book I knew I had to read it. I mean, not a clue what it was about but I had to read it. Your review makes it sound fantastic. The worldbuilding is complex but never complicated. Instead, it just means you get this rich world feels real and this may have been aided by the french/spanish influence on the countries but it will be more because of the writing! And the characters, I do love the sound of the bond between Isabelle and Jean-Claude. I am just so down for reading this book. It looks cool and the cover looks cool and you review makes me think I should be making sure I have this book in my hands as soon as possible.

    • Ahhh thanks so much, Becky! I absolutely loved this one…it’s actually inspired me to buy copies of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo because of all the fencing vibes (verbal and non-verbal). Jean-Claude and Isabelle’s relationship is so pure and awesome and funny! It brought a tear to my eye a couple of times, and really subverted my expectations. Definitely one of my favourite reads of the year for sure!

  • I love that the author has given Jean Claude and Isabelle’s relationship such importance in the book. Isabelle sounds wonderfully complex,and I’d like to know more about how she’s handles Isabelle’s deformity –whether it’s her hand or her lack of magic. Can I also add that I am LOVING that Polymath is the second word in the blurb?

    • Their relationship is the heart of this book and I’ve got a feeling it’ll continue to be important in the sequel. Isabelle’s deformity and lack of magic are handled really well in my opinion — solid disability rep. YES! I loved that aspect of the story too, especially since Isabelle’s mathematical abilities play such an important role.

  • Lynn Williams

    I have to read this now. I must be the last person to pick it up! *Stomps off to find kindle*
    Lynn 😀

    • Yes you do! It’s so good, I’m sure you’re going to love it. Hope your kindle is close at hand. 😉

  • Ooh this sounds like a really interesting pair of characters!

  • Ummmm… How do you find the most perfect sounding books! This is the first I’ve heard of this book or author but it sounds completely amazing! I like the idea of a Father/Daughter-like pair being at the center of a story like this.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing all these great books to my attention!!