After unwittingly releasing a villain from his centuries old prison, 12 year old Matthew Nightingale is inducted into the secret order or alchemists that live parallel to the known world. However, is the Great Pantomeus finished with him? Will Matthew know enough as an aspiring alchemist to protect himself when he comes for him?
The world building in this book is incredible. I love the idea of hidden worlds that exist within our own, be it Gaiman’s London Below or Rowling’s wizarding world. Eckstein has created a society just as rich and original, and it is a delight to explore.
It is refreshing to read about alchemists rather than wizards, and I loved how all the artifacts they used had a steampunk flare. Of course, alchemy is often referred to as an occult science, so magic is involved, but Eckstein keeps the Order of the Crimson Lion grounded in chemistry as much as possible. Wonderful, bizarre, arcane chemistry, of course.
Joining Matthew on his adventure is classmate Simon, a straight A student who is abhorred by the other pupils and bullied mercilessly.
I loved the idea of Simon, the bully subplot and the growing friendship between the two boys. Unfortunately, I didn’t see enough of it to satisfy me. A lot happens to Matthew, but he is a passive character who rides the waves of action rather than causing them. While the alchemist world is richly described, Matthew and Simon’s ordinary lives are almost an afterthought when they are mentionedl. I found this disappointing, as I would have liked to see how the boys juggled the secret society with their normal lives, and how their characters developed because of it.
The main characters aside, Eckstein’s world is beautifully depicted and I could easily visualize every fantastic environment or artifact described. The author is also a talented artist, and her beautiful illustrations added to my enjoyment of the book.
I think this is an exciting middle grade fantasy, and I know if I’d read it when I was younger I’d be searching for signs of the alchemists. I hope there will be more books set in this world, as I am looking forward to finding out more about it.
I award Quicksilver and Brimstone…
Quicksilver and Brimstone is available for $4.33 ebook and $11.99 print book on Amazon.