Book Review: Alchemy of Forever

The Alchemy of Forever
by Avery Williams
Bought/Hardback
Genre: Paranormal
Big Themes: immortality, alchemy, death, souls, humanity, escape, friendship, love, suicide
2012 Debut Author Challenge

Summary: Seraphina should have died 600 years ago, but a young alchemist named Cyrus had her drink an elixir that would allow her to insert her soul into any human body and enable her to live forever.  However, the human soul that originally inhabited the body… dies.  Sera is tired of being a murderer for her own survival and decides it’s time to escape Cyrus, who doesn’t want her to leave him.

What I Liked:
The premise had potential.  The idea of living forever by slipping your soul into others bodies and the conflict that creates (either you die or they die) was interesting.

The villain was pretty scary.  Manipulative, stalker, violent boyfriends rank up there in types of people I don’t like… and I could pretty easily find myself both hating and fearing Cyrus.

What I Didn’t Like:
I had lots of questions.  Lots of logistical issues with the plot, world, and characters.

  • First, would someone who had lived for 600 years really not mature at all and end up finding happiness as a 16 year old girl?
  • Would immortal beings really spend most of their time partying and not find some greater purpose?
  • Would a 600 year old being really be able to pass off as a 16 year old?  There are several times it is too obvious that Kailey is no longer Kailey, and I wanted the characters in the story to address it.
  • It was my understanding that the elixir made through alchemy allows the soul to become a free entity that can reattach to any body, but how can this soul heal a body near death?  I had a hard time suspending disbelief here.  Where does this healing power come from?  A little too magical for me.
I just had a really hard time buying into the idea that a 600 year old soul could still sound and behave like a 16 year old girl.  I don’t think what makes us age and mature is our bodies but our experiences.  What I mean is, I think after you have certain experiences, your outlook on life changes and develops.  I can’t imagine someone who has seen the tragedies of the world over a period of 600 years could then find satisfaction going to high school and crushing on the boy next door.
My Rating:  I was glad this was a short, quick read.  There’s a cliffhanger ending, but I probably won’t read the next book because I didn’t become terribly invested in the story or characters.  I’d give the book 2.5 stars.  Just meh.  Average.  Had potential, but it wasn’t well thought out.
COMING SOON… My review of Insurgent by Veronica Roth!

Book Review: Cinder

When I first heard about this book, I was skeptical. Cinderella and cyborgs? Ummm, sounds crazy. 
Allow me to eat my words.
If you’re looking for another gushing review for Cinder… you’ve found it.

Cinder
by Marissa Meyer

*Debut Novel*
Read on Kindle
Genre: Science Fiction, Fairy Tale Retelling
Big Themes: prejudice, plague, war/peace, duty

Summary:
After a terrible childhood accident, Cinder is alive but left an orphan and part machine. A plague has reached pandemic levels, and the emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth is on the brink of death as his teenage son prepares for the heavy responsibility of leading his people when they are on the brink of war with the Lunars (humans who moved and established their own nation on the moon). Cinder is a mechanic and an outcast in a society that is prejudiced against cyborgs. When the prince shows up at her mechanics booth in the market and requests help repairing an android that holds secret information, Cinder catches his attention and becomes entangled in plots much bigger than those of her evil stepmother. (Seriously, this book is so huge and so much happens that this was a very difficult summary to write. I hope I intrigued you, not confused you)

What I Liked:

First off, one of the biggest reasons I liked this book is because it’s like nothing I’d read before. It was refreshing, original, and pleasantly different. Where have you ever read cyborgs, plague, and moon colonies paired with a prince, evil stepmother, and royal ball? Then throw in a war, some wontons (the story takes place in New Beijing) and a big question of what it means to be human… Bam! This is one crazy recipe, but Marissa Meyer got it all to work. I was left satisfied, but hungry for her next concoction.

Main Character: Cinder is awesome. She’s strong-willed, independent, loyal, and… a mechanic! Yay to girls in traditionally male occupations! And she’s got this cool little orange light that blinks when someone is lying to her!  Awesome.  I want one.  One of the things that unnerved me at first, but I later grew to like, is that her physical appearance is never dwelled upon or described in depth. At first this bugged me because I was having difficulty picturing her. I could picture her robotic arm, leather boots, gloves, and knew her hair was in a ponytail. But I had no idea what color hair she had or how dark her skin was or what color her eyes were. In the world of YA lit, especially after Edward Cullen’s bronze hair and topaz eyes were described a bazillion times, you come to expect repeated, detailed physical descriptions. I grew to appreciate that Cinder’s appearance wasn’t dwelled upon because it kind of sent a message that her appearance wasn’t the most important thing about her. And I liked that. I really liked that. And I think that message was echoed in other scenes… but I don’t want to give any spoilers…

Secondary characters: A very rich cast of secondary characters from Iko the android with a personality malfunction, to Peony the lovable little sister, to Prince Kai and his heavy responsibilities, to the mysterious and suspicious Dr. Erland. I’d love some more insight into the Lunars, but for now I think they are meant to be an enigma.

Setting: I really loved that she chose to center this story in a New Beijing. I loved the hints of Asian culture. While this book probably won’t fit the definition of hard science fiction, it was far more technical than I expected from a fairy tale retelling. There are plenty of gadget references that sound sufficiently advanced. There is an especially cool section where the rebuilding of Beijing is described and how state-of-the-art technology was hidden within old world details. There was a cool side-mention of a transatlantic maglev train. The one thing I want more info on is the Lunar kingdom. It wasn’t a place they travelled to in this book, but more details in future volumes is definitely expected.

Plot: Excellent pacing and suspense. I really don’t want to elaborate in this category because I don’t want to have any spoilers. But with a fast-spreading plague, world on the brink of war, and secret plots against the prince, you’ll have more than enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. There is some predictability because the story is a fairy tale retelling. There are moments you will see coming. And if you watched any Sailor Moon as a kid… one moment will definitely come as no surprise! But there is enough fresh and original material from the sci-fi concept that you will never be bored. And anticipating the “Cinderella moments” had it’s own little satisfaction when they came true.

BONUS: Thank you Marissa Meyer for writing a YA book that I could recommend to my advanced 6th graders. Some middle grade books are too easy for them. Many YA titles are too risque. There was no cursing, mild violence, and no sex (just one little kiss at the ball). It’s getting harder and harder to find books that aren’t pushing the boundaries. You didn’t cross any lines, and still managed to write an engrossing story for teens. Hurray!

I always feel like the real testament of a great story is when I finish the book and think, “Man! That was a great idea for a book! I wish I’d come up with it!” As much as I wish I’d come up with the idea for Cinder, I think only Marissa Meyer could have pulled this off. Bravo! And can’t wait for Book 2: Scarlet!

My Rating: 

A full five stars. I’m already going through Cinder withdrawal and I finished the book yesterday. I’m tempted to read it again!

This book fulfilled two of my challenges:
Debut Author Challenge
Fairy Tales Retold Challenge

2012 Debut Author Challenge

Want to support new authors in middle grade/YA?
Want to read fresh, new titles released in 2012?
Want to help generate buzz for great new books?
Want to be up to date in what is getting published?

Join me in the 2012 Debut Author Challenge by The Story Siren.

The challenge is to read and review a minimum of 12 middle grade/YA debut novels in the year 2012. You can review via Goodreads or your own blog.

Sign up at The Story Siren by clicking the blue “Add your Link” button.

Story Siren also compiled a great blog post of debut novels being released in January to get you started.