Since the city of Bezim was shaken half into the sea by a magical earthquake, the Inquisitors have policed alchemy with brutal efficiency. Nothing too powerful, too complicated, too much like real magic is allowed–and the careful science that’s left is kept too expensive for any but the rich and indolent to tinker with. Siyon Velo, a glorified errand boy scraping together lesson money from a little inter-planar fetch and carry, doesn’t qualify.
But when Siyon accidentally commits a public act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight. Except the limelight is a bad place to be when the planes themselves start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send the rest of the city into the sea.
Now Siyon, a dockside brat who clawed his way up and proved himself on rooftops with saber in hand, might be Bezim’s only hope. Because if they don’t fix the cascading failures of magic in their plane, the Powers and their armies in the other three will do it for them.
Siyon Velo yearns to be a ‘proper’ alchemist, the only form of magic allowed after the sundering that affected the continent, but his errand boy trips to the other planes aren’t enough to qualify. When he accidentally commits an act of impossible magic, he finds himself drawn into the world he has longed to enter. Except right now isn’t the best time to be in the limelight, ￼the planes are shifting, threatening to cause another sundering, potentially sending the rest of the city into the sea. Siyon’s brand of magic might not be normal, but it could be the only thing to keep the planes in alignment and, if he fails, the powers and armies in the others will do it for them.
I loved this book, but I also spent a large part of it having little to no idea what was actually happening, so you’re going to have to bear with me for this review. If you enjoy stories with a wide cast of unique and diverse characters then this is definitely one to add to your TBR’s. The story follows multiple POV’s, with Siyon being the main. He is someone who escaped from his old life, looking for something better, only to be told he’s too poor, too different to become an alchemist. So instead he spends his days hopping between the planes finding items that he can then sell to try and scrape whatever money he can so he can try to buy alchemical lessons. He’s feisty and sarcastic, and I adored reading his interactions with our main cast of characters.
As well as Siyon we get POV’s from Zagiri and Anahid, sisters, though they couldn’t be more different. Anahid did her duty and entered society, married a man and now lives a life her parents are proud of, but she longs for something more. Something more than a distant husband, something more than a life in society, so when Zagiri turns up on her doorstep with Siyon, Anahid takes the chance on inviting him into her home and life. Zagiri on the other hand would love nothing more than to spend the rest of her life running with the Little Bracken, one of the gangs in Bezim, but knows that as much as she wants it, that is not her destiny. Our final POV is Izmirlian Hisarani, Siyon’s love interest. A high ranking member of society with a deep interest in Alchemy, even if he cannot use it himself. He takes an interest in Siyon when he hears about his feat of magic, wanting to escape the world he currently inhabits and see’s Siyon as his way out. Every single one of out side POV’s is a little chaotic in their own way, but I loved the scenes where we see them interact with each other as well as Siyon.
These are by far the main characters in the story, but Evans gives us a cast of characters like no other. We meet everyone from socialites, members of the Inquisitors, the police of her world, other alchemists, as well members of the gangs of Bezim and creatures from the other planes. Because we get to meet such a wide breadth of characters, it took me a good long while to get everyone straight in my head. I found the societal ranking system a little confusing in parts and it took me a while to get used to her naming system, but by the end I had most of our focal characters straight.
Evans world building is honestly spectacular. We learn the history of the world as we go along in the story, there are no big info dumps and, although I would have maybe liked a slightly better understanding at the start, I did manage to get my head around it pretty quickly. Bezim is part of the ‘mundane’ plane, and the only place in the world that magic-alchemy- works. But that is just one plane out of four the others being Empyeal, a fiery plane filled with vengeful angels, the Aethyreal plane, an airy plane filled with stars and Djinn and finally the Abyssal, a plane of water filled with harpy’s. We only travel to two planes in book one; Empyreal and Abyssal both of which are effortlessly brought to life, as well as the creatures that live there. Thanks to people traversing between the planes, they are lurching our of alignment, something that threatens the mundane plane more than the others, and the rulers of the adjacent planes have threatened that if Siyon and the other alchemists do not work out how to fix it, they will take over the mundane plane and fix it themselves.
I really enjoyed learning about the magic system, especially because Siyon himself is a newbie to the higher workings of alchemy, as well as whatever his new power is, so we get to learn it right alongside him. There’s a lot to take it, but I feel it’s one of those magic system’s that you’re just not supposed to get, there are so many rules, interchangeable alchemical tools etc, and as well as all this with have Siyon’s magic which seems to run more on belief and wishing than any kind of alchemy itself. Evans prose make it easy to get swept into the story, we start at a run and it never truly lets off, which definitely helps you stay in the story even with all the intricate world building, magic and societal groups. But it’s when we hit the true danger that the story really takes off and I read the last 50% of this book in one sitting, finding it absolutely impossible to put down. The stakes are big, the outcome if they fail is dire, but thanks to Evans witty writing and humorous characters you never feel too bogged down in the story.
I loved the romance arc through this book, it was funny and sweet and inevitable and I just adored every single second the two characters spend together. But what I loved most was seeing Siyon find a place in the world, as well as his effect on those around him. He may be from the lower side of town, the wrong type of person, but his humour and belief that anything is possible has an affect on those around him, and I loved seeing him build connections with people.
Like I said, you had to bear with me, there’s so much of this book to talk about, and a lot of it is hard without giving away spoilers. As much as the beginning was a little hard to get through, the story as a whole is 100% worth it and I cannot wait to get my hands on the second book and find out what all my absolutely chaotic faves are up to.