A delicious YA fantasy!

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elena l. Avatar


Fan Zilan has a mingqi store that sells ghost vessels to bury with the dead. She secretly practices (illegal) alchemy and dreams of becoming a royal court alchemist. When she travels to the capital for the imperial exams, she encounters a city permeated by death and gold.

In an alternate Tang dynasty China in which Empress Wu Zetian had succeeded in creating an elixir of immortality, the setting in Guangzhou and Chang'an was so alluring. Baker has the ability to craft ruthless female characters - the main character and the most famous (and only) Chinese Empress. Empress Wu is as ruthless as known in the history, being decisive while her ambitions have no limits. Our biracial protagonist lives in bad fortune and when seeking better future for her and her family, she does whatever it takes to reach her goals. For this Chinese history lover, one of the best part of the book is the close look into the Tang dynasty, with all its political intrigue and family drama.

One reason alone to read this book is the worldbuilding surrounding alchemy - it is sumptuous and its mysterious nature covers the plot with an atmospheric vibe. The story focuses on life alchemy, alluring one to experiment its forbidden essence. The story unfolds in a juicy way, delivering unexpected twists and all the dangers in a steady pacing. This book feels darker than Baker's previous works, with visceral and horror images that add potency without being inconvenient.

In contrast to the intensity of action-packed moments, Baker offers tender instances of family bond. I really enjoyed reading the parts about Zilan and her cousins, and since I didn't have enough of them, I expect to have the side characters further explored in the next installment(s). In addition, privilege and race are captured in a balanced way. I liked the romance and, even though some might find it a bit too rushed, I thought it was endearing and I am craving more.

First book of a series, THE SCARLET ALCHEMIST is a delicious blend of action, royal politics and family drama. Baker builds another amazing historical Asian fantasy that I am eager for the sequel. Captivating, imaginative and very enjoyable.

note: this book will keep you company while you look for next Chinese drama to devour