All the twists and turns had me racing through The Scarlet Alchemist, and it was more bloody and gruesome than I expected! Zilan is a compelling, layered protagonist, and I really felt her hopes and fears. Her dream is to become a royal alchemist in the capital city of Chang’an, living alongside her cousins Yufei and Wenshu—if they all pass the civil service exams. Many obstacles stand in Zilan’s way, not just the brutal alchemy exam but also the discrimination she faces for being a girl, mixed race, and poor. As she becomes entangled with the royal court, she discovers a treacherous place filled with dark secrets.
Zilan's love for her cousins is also her greatest insecurity, as she fears being left behind. The romance developed too quickly for me, although it did bring some funny moments into the mix. I also would’ve loved to learn more about the royal alchemists, but I know this isn’t their story, it’s Zilan’s. I didn’t see that ending coming at all, so I’m very very excited to see where Baker takes this story in the sequel.