Monday, January 21, 2013

Book review: Alchemystic by Anton Strout

Alchemystic (The Spellmason Chronicles #1) by Anton Strout 
Mass Market Paperback, 292 pages 
Published September 25th 2012 by Ace

An old friend of the family… 
Alexandra Belarus is a struggling artist living in New York City, even though her family is rich in real estate, including a towering Gothic Gramercy Park building built by her great-great-grandfather. But the truth of her bloodline is revealed when she is attacked on the street and saved by an inhumanly powerful winged figure. A figure who knows the Belarus name…

Lexi’s great-great-grandfather was a Spellmason—an artisan who could work magic on stone. But in his day, dark forces conspired against him and his, so he left a spell of protection on his family. Now that Lexi is in danger, the spell has awoken her ancestor’s most trusted and fearsome creation: a gargoyle named Stanis.

Lexi and Stanis are equally surprised to find themselves bound to each other. But as they learn to work together, they realize that only united can they save the city they both love…

Alexandra "Lexi" Belarus is an artist, 24, struggling to create a life for herself. Her best friends, the roommates Rory, a dancer, and Marshall, a rpg nerd, both seem to have some sense of direction. It's interesting how everyone's hobbies come into play in Alchemystic. Set in New York City, this urban fantasy is centered around the seven story Belarus home where Lexi lives with her older brother, Devon, and their parents. As the only 'male' heir, Devon is following in their dad's footsteps, learning the family business of real estate. 

Soon after the story begins, tragedy strikes and the bookish Lexi is forced to take a crash course in learning about the Belarus' various holdings, a job she hates until she meets Stanis, a huge gargoyle. When he saves her life one night, she learns his sole job is to protect her family. Great great grandfather Alexander Belarus loved puzzles and has an extensive library in their home that she's loved since childhood. Lexi discovers her namesake was a Spellmason and created Stanis. That's a good thing because there's now a whopper of a puzzle to solve: who is trying to kill her and why? 

What I liked: For an urban fantasy, I found the premise of spellmasons, alchemy and bespelling stones fascinating. My favorite character was definitely Stanis and I'm glad the author included his point-of-view. I felt he could have narrated even more. Stanis grew as the story progressed and I enjoyed watching him change as pieces of his humanity were  returned and his memories were restored. His special bond with Lexi added a sweet touch and their dedication to each other was admirable. Stanis and Lexi's relationship became an endearing force in the story I enjoyed reading.

Using the city as the setting (Gramercy Park, Brooklyn shipyard, the Village) was a nice touch. Trying to imagine stone men fighting in underground crypts upped the story's creep factor. I have to give Anton Strout credit for his way with crafting scenes. Paired with his unique premise, I enjoyed watching Lexi search for the stone souls. Two of my favorite scenes was the bell tower scene and the forgotten underground train station scene.  

The appeal of Alchemystic was certainly its magic from Lexi's talisman to Stanis to the heart stones and more. For a character we never meet, Alexander Belarus was a steady force throughout the story. His books, spells, creations, and his history is what drove everything from solving the mystery of the missing heart stones to finding out how to embody stone into movement. 

What I wasn't crazy about: When Lexi narrated, the story's pace slowed down due to too much exposition and repetitive actions. She seemed to fall into the cycle of open a tome/search the pages/find an incantation/speak it. Problem solved. During an action scene she would have to open her great great grandfather's tome (maybe Lexi could find a name to use to describe her ancestor's books) and search out a solution. Feasible? For a comedy, yes. I didn't think her character was developed as much as Stanis. She started out as rich and petulant and being described as an artist clad in muddy overalls was stereotypical. 

As likable as Lexi's friends were, they were predictable and I couldn't grasp Rory as a sudden stick-wielding graceful ninja (without her having special powers). I did enjoy Marshall's nerdy ways and he provided a needed comedic touch. I have to wonder if a romance will strike up between the two roommates?

By the end: Lexi did grow on me and I was glad to see her become so focused and determined to begin researching a way to solve the mystery which arose during the climax and will become the focus of the next book, Stonecast.

The premise was promising and with the way the story ended, we know there's a lot more for Lexi and company to do in the next book, Stonecast, scheduled for publication this year. I am curious to see what happens next.

Rating: 3

Cover comment: Very effective. I was surprised not to see a book or 'tome' included in the cover art (though Lexi does have a talisman around her neck).

Book source: I received a copy from the publisher in return for my honest review.

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