Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller

The Alchemist’s Gift by Martin Rua

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I began to read this novel, I had no idea that it was a translation. I also had not known that it was part of a series. At first, I considered reading the previous novel in the series so that I wouldn’t be completely out of the loop, but then I decided to just give this one a chance on its own.

While on a trip to Prague to participate in an exhbition of precious alchemical objects, Lorenzo Aragona finds himself embroiled in the murder of an old antiquarian, who also had a passion for alchemy. With the delivery of a secret note and object, Lorenzo is thrust into a hidden world, run by a mysterious brotherhood that will stop at nothing to get what he possesses. Lorenzo gets help from the Masons to decipher a series of codes, but soon he finds himself facing a real alchemic puzzle, one that links him to the famous Prince of Sansevero. His discoveries takes him to France and to a stunning cathedral that seems to be at the center of this mystery. But what is it about this cathedral that makes it so powerful? And what will happen when its secrets are finally revealed?

This novel had an interesting premise … but its execution was not as promising. It was a struggle to keep reading because every word, every conversation, and even every character was extremely artificial. I’m not saying that the author has to write a realistic story, but there needs to be realistic interactions and behaviours for the story to be taken seriously – or to even be enjoyed. The dialogue was awkward, sometimes too dramatic and other times ridiculous because of its lack of drama. Perhaps this can be attributed to the translation; it often is the case that certain nuances and charms are lost when a novel is translated from one language to another.

I don’t think I have ever complained about this before but I thought the novel was too fast-paced. Everything was sudden, and the constant jumping about from one scene to the next was jarring. I barely had enough time to process the connections being made before something else happened.

While I love learning about the history of another country or of a religion – or just of anything in general – I felt completely out of my depth with this novel. I felt like this is a story that you can only enjoy if you have some experience of travelling to Italy or to France and know about these locations and buildings. I have never been to Italy or France, so I found myself at a disadvantage when reading this story. I just wasn’t able to appreciate the connections between the different locations to the story, and it made me more disappointed.

Overall, this novel gave me a headache. While the premise was interesting and I liked the whole alchemy idea, the story assumed that the reader would have some basic knowledge of the settings being described, as well as some of the history of alchemy – neither of which I possess. This combined with the disjointed fast pace and the awkwardness of the language just made it more of a difficult read. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who is unfamiliar with Italian culture and alchemy.

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