Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: The empire rewarded loyalty by asking even a greater sacrifice. And it kept asking and demanding more until there was nothing left to give.
Jin Soling’s father was a skilled engineer in the employ of the Emperor of China. When he and his fellow engineers were unable to halt the British invasion in 1842, the Emperor rewarded their failure with death and stripped their families everything. Soling has spent the last eight years taking care of her family, slowly selling off family heirlooms to keep them from starving to death. When she attempts to sell their last possession, she is seized and brought before the Crown Prince.
The Prince doesn’t trust in the Imperial divinity, and knows that the only way to defeat the British is to create better weapons. For that he needs Soling’s help. Only she can convince her father’s allies, most of whom have become rebels, to come back and fight for the Empire. The Prince promises Soling her family’s honor will be restored if she succeeds but Soiling is hesitant to place her trust in the hands of the family that destroyed hers.
When she is partnered up with her ex betrothed, her wariness increases, and she finds herself in the middle of a war that threatens what little she and her family have left.
Jeannie Lin brings the danger and opulence of the Qing Dynasty to life in her newest alternative historical, Gunpowder Alchemy. History and fantasy blend together to create a steampunk adventuristic look at the Opium Wars through the eyes of a young chinese woman whose family lost everything. Though touted as a historical romance, the romance is but a faint idea that hovers beneath the main story, giving readers possibilities to look forward to in the future. Flavorful prose and lush detailed descriptions paint a vivid world as Lin takes great pains to show us what China has become since Britain’s invasion. The contrasts between the opulence and secrecy of the Forbidden City and the abject poverty of the people highlights the political intrigue, the cultural traditions, and the unrest that simmers just beneath the surface.
Jin Soling is a heroine readers will easily connect with. Forced into poverty, she became the lynchpin that holds her fractured family together. Intelligent, resourceful, stoic, and compassionate, Soling is the epitome of an underdog whose actions and thoughts show a woman who has learned the hard way that no one and nothing is as it seems. Unwillingly forced into a position of savior, Soling uses her wits and tenaciousness to try to better her family’s future. Having no special powers or extraordinary skills only increases your admiration for her as she is swept up into the political quagmire.
Boldly drawn secondary characters offer suspense and intrigue to the story as each one tells us their story while their agenda remains unclear. Chang-wei, Jin’s former betrothed, is an agent of the Empire though his ties to the British are suspect. Her father’s former partner and friend, Yang Hanzhu, is wanted by the Empire for his gunpowder expertise but his loyalties are fractured and he only seeks to find the cause for the opium addiction that is killing his fellow countrymen. I really enjoyed seeing the differences between the Chinese and the British personnel from Jin’s own innate reserved nature.
A majority of the story is spent with Jin on the road, traveling and experiencing first hand the changes that have occurred while she and her family were trying to survive in their small secular village. Though a little slow at times, the overall pace is steady and there is plenty of action and sophistry to keep the reader engaged.
Gunpowder Alchemy is an enjoyable alternative historical work of fiction that offers a steampunk lauded adventure in a rarely seen location. I am looking forward to book two, title and release date to be announced.