When Zoe Faust–herbalist, alchemist, and recent transplant to Portland, Oregon–begins unpacking her bags, she can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stow away: a living, breathing, three-and-half-foot gargoyle. Dorian Robert-Houdin is no simple automaton, nor is he a homunculus; in fact, he needs Zoe’s help to decipher a centuries-old text that explains exactly what he is. Zoe, who’s trying to put her alchemical life behind her, isn’t so sure she can help. But after a murder victim is discovered on her front porch, Zoe realized she’s tangled up in ancient intrigue that can’t be ignored.
Dorian Robert-Houdin has a few problems: 1) he is a master chef who lives with a vegetarian; 2) he has a debilitating illness that is slowly killing him and; 3) he is a gargoyle that shouldn’t exist. Zoe Faust has a few problems: 1) she has a gargoyle she’s never met living with her; 2) the man she hired to fix up her falling-apart home is found dead on her front porch and; 3) in order to help her new roommate stay alive she has to take up a task she gave up decades ago, alchemy.
When Dorian decided to stow away in Zoe’s crates coming to the States from France, he did so with the intention of convincing the woman to help him stay alive. Dorian’s life is slowly fading away and the only clue he has is an indecipherable and rather old alchemical book. Zoe’s new life in Portland is meant to be a do-over for her; she is more than 300 years old and for decades she has crisscrossed the US selling her wares and never putting down roots. Portland feels good to Zoe and with her handyman lined up and hope for a bright and grounded future she is feeling quite optimistic until the moment the gargoyle pops out of a crate, gives her an arcane book and, her handyman ends up dead on her front porch. Well hell, there went that bright and grounded future!
Before she can even get the holes in the roof fixed, Zoe is called into the police station for questioning, she is trying desperately to figure out a book that should be familiar to her but somehow isn’t and, is trying to figure out how to protect the snarky little gargoyle that keeps taking over her kitchen. Those she hasn’t practiced alchemy in decades, Zoe is determined to help Dorian, she is determined to figure out who killed the handyman and, she is determined to keep her heard down and her nose clean. Unfortunately, the universe has many, many other plans for Zoe.
As if the gargoyle and his waning life weren’t enough, the book she needs to save him is stolen, her one and only friend in town is nearly killed and framed for murder and, she has a young boy to look after since his worthless mother can’t seem to find the time to do it. To say that mayhem unfolds doesn’t even come close. Between the naughty gargoyle with a penchant for breaking and entering, the mischievous kid with a vested interest in helping his friends and, one stressed out alchemist, the antics are very much like the Scooby gang. Zoe seems to be forever cleaning up the messes left by Dorian and the kid and with every mess comes more problems. By the time Zoe and the gang figure out who is behind all the mayhem and murder, it almost too late for everyone involved.
The Bottom Line: The Accidental Alchemist is sort of a mixed bag for me. While I adore Dorian and his particular breed of snark and sarcasm, I had a harder time really liking Zoe. While I liked some aspects of the mystery and plot, others seemed a bit awkward and/or slow. While I liked the information about alchemy and about Zoe’s past, it became repetitive toward the middle and the end of the read. Does this mean I am done with the Accidental Alchemist series? No, not in this instance. I have the distinct feeling that once this series really gets going and some of the kinks get worked out, it is going to be a really fun and interesting series. I know I am certainly up for a little more of Dorian!!
Gigi’s first mystery novel, Artifact, was awarded the Malice Domestic Grant, named a “Best of 2012” debut mystery by Suspense Magazine, and hit the USA TODAY Bestseller List. The second book in the series, Pirate Vishnu, is now available from Henery Press.
She’s also writing a new mystery series. The Accidental Alchemist will be released by Midnight Ink in January, 2015.
Gigi’s short fiction includes novella “Fool’s Gold” in Other People’s Baggage and two locked-room mystery short stories published in Fish Tales (“The Shadow of the River”) and Fish Nets (“The Hindi Houdini” — nominated for an Agatha Award).