By Laura Bickle
Things are rarely what they seem, especially in the town of Temperance.
Temperance, at the crossroads of Yellowstone National Park and ranch land, was founded by an alchemist back in the Gold Rush days. The alchemist, Lascaris, was able to conjure enough gold from rocks to keep the town running. That is, until he died mysteriously in a fire.
But some of his alchemical experiments remain behind, persisting to the present day. They adhere to the principle of “as above, so below” – that the world above reflects the inner, hidden world. And there’s a whole lot to hide in Temperance.
The Alchemical Tree, the Lunaria, represents that principle. Its roots dig deep into the earth, with branches reaching to the heavens. It stands at the center of a warren of secret tunnels stretching for miles underneath a cattle rancher’s field. The Lunaria has its secrets – it’s a remnant of Lascaris’s quest to find the secret of eternal life. It’s the source of power for the local undead, the Hanged Men. The Hanged Men were created over a century ago among the branches of the tree. They must return to the Lunaria every night to decompose and be reformed. They can’t wander far from the shadow of the tree, and are forever in the company of their raven familiars.
One of the oldest Hanged Men, Gabriel, has masqueraded as human for all this time as a ranch hand for the cattle baron who owns the land around the tree. Later generations of the Hanged Men lost the ability to speak, memory, and even human appearance as the power of the tree waned. The Lunaria’s leaves are beginning to curl and fall. Whatever power remains, the Hanged Men must protect it to survive.
The Hanged Men are not the only threat Petra faces. Caught in a war between the local meth lord and a ruthless cattle baron, Petra stumbles across a string of bent and twisted corpses. The bodies are calcinated beyond her ability to explain scientifically. Are they the product of fresh alchemy gone bad? She must suspend disbelief to explore what lurks beneath the surface, before the things beneath the ground find her.
About the Author
Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016. THE HALLOWED ONES and THE OUTSIDE are her latest young adult novels.
About the Book
Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle
Stephen King’s The Gunslinger meets Breaking Bad in Laura Bickle’s novel Dark Alchemy.
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.
Bickle starts throwing mysteries at us right from the first page, offering just enough hints to really intrigue the reader. What's up with the two strange skeletons found in the field? What secrets are Sal protecting? What is Petra running from? What's with the odd coyote and its buried treasure? Why does such a small hick town have so many hick tweakers? What's up with drunken Frankie and his talk of prophetic ravens? What's the deal with Gabriel, a man who seems older and wiser than even his quick-healing flesh would suggest? Just how do Sal's secrets line up with Gabe's, and what do ravens and coyotes have to do with it all?
And that's just the first four chapters.
Yes, there's a bit of a Gunslinger feel to this, as the cover blurb teases, and it's easy to see the Breaking Bad element, but it's the small town Twin Peaks oddness to the town of Temperance that pulls it all together. I really liked the idea of The Hanged Men, led by mysterious Gabe, and Luneria (the Alchemical Tree of Life) was a very cool element that was incorporated into the story in ways I didn't really expect. Petra's story alone could have made for a decent book, and setting her against Sal could have made for an interesting conflict, but it's the addition of these supernatural, alchemical elements that really elevates the story to the next level. Petra and Gabe were, by far, my favorite characters in the story, and despite being a stereotypical villain based on the oft-used trope of the corrupt small-town landowner, I still loved the scene-chewing grandeur of Sal.
Dark Alchemy plays with the typical urban fantasy tropes, but puts a unique spin on them all. The magic and the mystery are the hook, but the characters are what will keep you reading. It's a fast-paced adventure, with something significant happening in every chapters, all racing towards a suitably epic climax that satisfyingly ties up all the loose ends . . . but which leaves the door open just a crack for another adventure.
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