Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle
Publisher’s Description: Geologist Petra Dee arrives in Wyoming looking for clues to her father’s disappearance years before. What she finds instead is Temperance, a dying Western town with a gold rush past and a meth-infested present. But under the town’s dust and quiet, an old power is shifting. When bodies start turning up – desiccated and twisted skeletons that Petra can’t scientifically explain – her investigations land her in the middle of a covert war between the town’s most powerful interests. Petra’s father wasn’t the only one searching for the alchemical secrets of Temperance, and those still looking are now ready to kill. Armed with nothing but shaky alliances, a pair of antique guns, and a relic she doesn’t understand, the only thing Petra knows for sure is that she and her coyote sidekick are going to have to move fast, or die next.
Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel (in other words, SPOILERS!).
Main characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Petra Dee is the center of this story. She is a no-nonsense geologist that has taken a position near Yellowstone National Park’s caldera. Petra has some pretty harsh recent history and is trying to heal her heart from an accident that she claims to have caused. Her father, Joseph, went missing in 1995 and she is in search of him. Sig is Petra’s familiar coyote. Without him, Petra would have been toast a few times over. Gabriel is a creature that is very original to any story that I have recently read. Gabriel is a member of the “Hanged Men” that takes the leader role. He was a Pinkerton Agent 150 years ago and was old west hanged on a tall tree.
Other characters: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Sal Rutherford is a many-generation rancher that controls the land where the hanging tree is located. Mike Hollander is the ranger that helps Petra with her law enforcement needs. Marie Yellowrose is Petra’s new friend in Temperance and she has an uncle that has shaman-like/prophet-like skill.
World: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ The world takes place in the area near Yellowstone National Park, so if you’ve been there, you can pretty much imagine it. The whole concept of alchemy has to do with turning base metal into gold or possibly eternal life so there is a little scientific mumbo jumbo that I could pretend I understood, but in reality just nodded all knowingly when the story mentions anything like that.
Story: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Shout out to the salamander! Love that unnamed Sparky!! If you’ve read Laura Bickle’s other series, Anya Kalinczyk, then you will catch the salamander reference. Anyway, I was saying that this story is very original. Petra is searching for her missing alchemist father and falls into the magic of alchemy. The characters are very well put together. The story is mostly a mystery as we follow along with Petra. She is trying to figure out, along with where her father might be, the secret to a “locus” that she found near the trailer she is renting. She, along with us readers, don’t have any idea what is going on and all her experiences are puzzling to a down-to-earth scientist. Turning base meal into gold is allegedly what the man that founded the town of Temperance used to make a living. I wasn’t really clear on the whys and wherefores of what happened to the alchemist other than he had created the “Hanged Men” and went missing, left town, died – whatever, when his house was burned. Petra meets a lot of unique characters. Stroud is the “crazier than a pet coon” current living alchemist who claims legacy to the original alchemist’s work. He, of course, has henchmen. Sal Rutherford is the local all powerful, nasty toad of a rancher that has control over the Hanged Men and uses them as his ancestors did – to make money at ranching. All these things come together with a crash at the end of the book – oh, there is a cliffhanger, but not wrench your heart out of your chest kind of cliffhanger. Just one where you will check the interwebs every other day just in case the next in the series has made its debut.
Cover: I think the cover art is right on the money. The chick on the cover looks like someone who walked out of an old west movie and that’s really what this storyline seems to follow.
Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Awesome start to a new series. Laura Bickle’s story telling is incredible. The twists and turns are all ones I didn’t see coming. I had no idea where this ride was taking me. I was a refreshing spin meshing historical old west, modern day, “out in the middle of nowhere” small town, science and the paranormal. Good job, Laura!
While I enjoy even the stereotypical Urban Fantasy, Dark Alchemy is refreshingly unique read in the genre. It gives the study of alchemy – something I associate with medieval Europe, though it is much older than that – a distinctly Native American feel and places it in Midwest America ranching territory.
Petra Dee comes to the small town of Temperance, Wyoming, to both heal from a recent tragedy and search for her missing father. Temperance is an odd place, the way many small rural towns are, and she finds much more than she bargains for.
I was able to connect with Petra right away. She’s hurting emotionally and blaming herself for the death of her boyfriend; but, she’s also stubbornly independent and determined to pursue a goal so she feels productive. Petra unknowingly acquires a familiar, the coyote Sig, who completely steals the show. I found myself wanting to know where Sig was in every scene. The author seems to have a talent for creating beloved animal companions, having created the character of Sparky the salamander in her Anya Kalinczyk series. In fact, a couple of Sparky-like characters appear in Dark Alchemy, presumably as a nod to her character and her fans. 🙂
In Temperance, three characters seem to be on Petra’s side: Mike Hollinder, the local forest ranger; Maria Yellowrose, a local healer; and her usually drunk and somewhat psychic uncle, Frankie. Frankie is an interesting character with a huge back story; I can’t wait to hear more about it.
The town “baddies” appear to be Sal Rutherford, a ranch-owner with a selfish and sadistic personality, and “The Alchemist,” Stroud, who surrounds himself with young, strung-out meth-heads. Stroud is searching for immortality through the study of alchemy, counting on the town’s history to provide him answers. He comes off as a dangerous but ridiculous thug and easy to despise.
Sal Rutherford is a bastard, but not an alchemist. The ranch hands, Gabriel and his brethren, are one of the most interesting mysteries of the book. I absolutely love their story (I won’t give it away here) and am so very eager to learn more about them.
Though Petra seems to accomplish her goal at the end of the book, there are still too many unanswered questions, which makes me believe this is the start of a series, though there is yet no mention of Book 2. I will certainly be on the lookout for it, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed Dark Alchemy and am eager for more of Petra’s story.
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ However, depending on how this series goes, I can see it becoming one of my favorites.
If you like this book…
For another “weird small town” story, you might try Charlaine Harris’ Midnight, Texas series. The town of Midnight isn’t quite as spooky as Temperance, but it is odd in its own way. Another reviewer also suggested Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville series, though I haven’t had the pleasure of reading that series yet. I hope to soon!
No promotional consideration was granted for this review.