Review: Alchemystic by Anton Strout

Alchemystic by Anton Strout
Series: The Spellmason Chronicles (# 1)
Release date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Ace
Pages: 290
Source: book provided by the publisher for review

Alexandra Belarus is a struggling artist living in New York City, even though her family is rich in real estate, including a towering Gothic Gramercy Park building built by her great-great-grandfather. But the truth of her bloodline is revealed when she is attacked on the street and saved by an inhumanly powerful winged figure. A figure who knows the Belarus name…

Lexi’s great-great-grandfather was a Spellmason—an artisan who could work magic on stone. But in his day, dark forces conspired against him and his, so he left a spell of protection on his family. Now that Lexi is in danger, the spell has awoken her ancestor’s most trusted and fearsome creation: a gargoyle named Stanis.

Lexi and Stanis are equally surprised to find themselves bound to each other. But as they learn to work together, they realize that only united can they save the city they both love…

Review: When I first received this book, I was excited about it. I am an avid reader, and when I begin a book I just cannot put it down, even if it is a book that I don’t really enjoy. A new book is a new adventure, and I love diving in. I will lose hours upon hours a day between the pages, greedily devouring every last syllable until the final punctuation mark.

I opened this book, and read about 10 pages, and then put it down and left it for a week. I tried again to read it, but it just didn’t grab me. So now, almost a month later, I have forced myself to read it, and I know why it was so hard for me to finish this. The book itself seemed unfinished to me.

I know I review, and read, a lot of horror, but I went into this wanting to like this book. I mean, really like this book. I love the concept, I love the setting, and I love the ideas driving this book forward. The blurb seemed a little cliche, but whatever. This looked good. Nothing grabbed me, though.

This book, despite what the blurb says, is not about saving any cities whatsoever. It is, at best as I can say, about the relationship between Alexandra, or “Lexi”, and Stanis, who is a gargoyle. It took me almost 2/3rds of the book to nail down what the plot of this specific book is, which could have been me. It took almost 1/3rd to definitively identify an antagonist. This felt greatly like the author was just setting up the rest of this series through this book, and in and of itself, I wasn’t enamored.

The plot seems simple enough. At the opening, we learn of Alexandra, and how she hates her brother, and wants nothing to do with the family business of real estate. Her great-great-grandfather’s name was Alexander, and he was an architect and real estate tycoon. What we learn later is that he is also a “spell mason”, someone who can chant chants and do some motions and make stone do… stuff. It’s never really clearly defined how it works or what its limits are. But, hey, it’s only the first book of the series, and the Alexandra herself probably doesn’t understand it all, either, right?

Alexandra meets a protector gargoyle (or grotesque, as he is called a handful of times in the book) which was created by Alexander to take care of his descendants. Alexandra and her two best friends then set out on a quest to return some gems into Stanis to restore his memory. They do, fighting bad guys and stone creations, eventually restoring all of Stanis’ memories to himself.

This book felt unfinished to me. People’s reactions to meeting a living stone gargoyle, discovering there is magic, and there is a secret order of baddies out to get them felt very… blah. There wasn’t really a good, honest reaction. The characters accepted it as fact, and moved on. I don’t know about you, but if I were to come face to face with a gargoyle, my response would be “OHMYGOSHGETMETHEFREAKINGHECKOUTOFTHISPLACENOW!”, followed by me soiling my pants as I sprinted away as fast as my fat and out of shape body would allow. I would not just stand there and have a conversation. I would not act like this was plausible. I would see my doc for some meds. But yet, throughout the whole book, people react in a manner which says this is very, very unremarkable.

My other main issue was that all of the characters remained very static emotionally. Yes, Stanis got his memories back, and yes, Alexandra learned to be a spell mason, but that was it. There seemed to me to be some sort of relationship between Stanis and Alexandra, but I had a hard time pinning down exactly what that was. Alexandra had passing thoughts of kissing the gargoyle, which were quickly dismissed by her, and not employed elsewhere in the story. I was confused.

To it’s credit, however, there were two twists in the book which I greatly enjoyed. I won’t spoil them here, but I did not actually see them coming and they surprised me. They both happened within the last 20 pages, however, and did very little to reprise the rest of the book for me.

I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series to see what happens to these characters, in the hope that I can get more enthralled in this series. To reiterate what I’ve already said, I really like the concept, and the setting, and really want to like this. I’m hoping the second book will define Alexandra’s and Stanis’ relationship, and am excited to see if it will have a much more defined plot, and that I am able to engage more emotionally in these characters.