A happy ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ to “Beauty and the Alchemist,” by Elle Hartford! Such a delightful tale!
Find Beauty and the Alchemist (The Alchemical Tales Book 1) here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0B8NHDPYK/
Delightful descriptive writing brings this tale to life!
Beauty and the Alchemist (The Alchemical Tales Book 1) by Elle Hartford is an absolutely charming (fairy) tale. I’ve looked forward to reading this book ever since I was introduced to Hartford’s Belville characters through social media.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When I started the book, I thought I *knew* protagonist Red (Cinnabar) and the colorful ensemble of her Belville neighbors (William, Luca, Thorn, Trent, Gloria – to name a few), but by the last page…Whew! The complexity of these characters wowed me. In fact, in the last few pages of the book, my mouth literally popped open in surprise. My thought at that moment? Well done, author! – followed by: I so love this.
I want to call out the world-building found in this first-in-series. Simply pointing out “compelling, vibrant language” is not good enough. Precise wording and phrasing are needed to create such magnificent landscape on the page. Hartford’s world-building – through settings, “rules” of the land (the world known as Beyond), multiple histories, storytelling *by* the characters, plus Red’s own explanations of alchemy processes – has raised the bar. Other writers, take note: This is how it’s done.
Throughout the book, I stopped and marveled at how well Hartford’s words shaped the scene inside my head with a only sentence or two – Hartford never strays into “purple prose.” Her balance of simplicity and something more elaborate is brilliant. And it’s not just the literal scene she sets on the page – the moods are delivered through imaginative phrases such as: “Our trip down the forest road and over the little bridge would have been pleasant, if not for Thorn’s accusations following us like a storm cloud.”
The rules of this world must’ve been so carefully designed before the author put her pen to the page. The details and the nuances are well-developed and yet not overwhelming as you read along. They are naturally presented and fit into the story easily. Hartford seems to be the kind of author who meticulously plans and researches a line of thought – or a belief, a practice, a process – before including it in her story. And, as I learned from her bio, Hartford is an educator. Aha! Perhaps that real-life role is what puts the extra shine on her writing.
Be prepared to be surprised! This is a mystery, after all. The author misleads us here and there as main character Red sorts out the facts and just who is really who. More than once you will learn that someone is not the person they hold out as being, or that something is not as benign as it seems – or is it? Back and forth Hartford keeps us wondering until the final pages and the reveal.
In Beauty and the Alchemist, Red is drawn to Jade, a cursed shadowy figure. Who is he? Can Red trust him? And are those feelings we see developing between the two? Is it just chemistry? (Pun intended!) Although this attraction is not the main focus of the book, Jade’s history and his fate are compelling stories and will keep you turning pages to find out more.
Characters Trent (village witch) and Luca (village scholar) earned much of my scrutiny. There were personality threads I didn’t expect – again, there’s that character complexity shining through – but this added to the richness of the story. I don’t include spoilers in my reviews, but I will admit to some surprise as to Trent’s role with Officer Thorn. Although he does not thwart Red’s sleuthing, his work as “requested” by the enthusiastic Thorn was notable – at least to me. Although he remained an easygoing figure, it was a tiny detail I considered as I turned the pages.
In social media, the author presents Luca as a shy scholar. In Beauty and the Alchemist, that has not changed. But you will learn still waters run deep. Luca’s backstory / current tale is a multi-layered one. I loved it and bet you will, too.
Red, as we learn at the very beginning, is the alchemist in this tale. Merriam-Webster, after defining alchemy as “a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way,” also includes an article called “Alchemist: Someone Who Transforms Things for the Better.” I submit that author Elle Hartford is an alchemist of sorts – only her ingredients are the words she transforms on the page into a magnificent tale. The end result is a marvelous sense of satisfaction as readers reach the last page of her book.
A big five stars to Beauty and the Alchemist and author Elle Hartford! This first-in-series will enchant readers and merrily lead them along the path deeper into Red’s world. It’s a journey they won’t want to miss.