Review: Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

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Gunpowder Alchemy Gunpowder Alchemy by
Series: The Gunpowder Chronicles #1
Published by on November 18, 2014
Genres:
Pages: 287
Source: ,
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four-half-stars

In 1842, the gunpowder might of China’s Qing Dynasty fell to Britain’s steam engines. Furious, the Emperor ordered the death of his engineers—and killed China’s best chance of fighting back…

Since her father’s execution eight years ago, Jin Soling kept her family from falling into poverty. But her meager savings are running out, leaving her with no choice but to sell the last of her father’s possessions—her last memento of him.

Only, while attempting to find a buyer, Soling is caught and brought before the Crown Prince. Unlike his father, the Emperor, the Prince knows that the only chance of expelling the English invaders is to once again unite China’s cleverest minds to create fantastic weapons. He also realizes that Soling is the one person who could convince her father’s former allies—many who have turned rebel—to once again work for the Empire. He promises to restore her family name if she’ll help him in his cause.

But after the betrayal of her family all those years ago, Soling is unsure if she can trust anyone in the Forbidden City—even if her heart is longing to believe in the engineer with a hidden past who was once meant to be her husband…

When this came across my inbox, I saw 2 things that made me click YES! Jeannie Lin, and Steampunk.
There’s no blurb up, at least not one that tells much, so I went in fairly blind. All I knew was that it would be set in China during the Opium Wars (Boxer Rebellion), and it was a Steampunk.

(Edit: There is now)
That was enough for me. And it was such a fantastic read!
I’d probably classify this as a Steampunk Adventure, rather than a Steampunk Romance, only because the romance is not the main focus.
Soling is the daughter of the Emperor’s head engineer. Her family has fallen from Imperial favor, and she, her little brother, her mother, and their nurse, are living in poverty. Once, her father was the Emperor’s chief engineer, but after a naval defeat at the hands of Western invaders (which he told the emperor they weren’t equipped to win), he was chosen as the scapegoat and executed.
8 years later, Soling is barely keeping food on the table through her work with her village doctor. This is not only odd for a woman, but odd for a gently bred woman at that. She’s trying to secure enough money to eat, but unfortunately, the fall from grace was too much for her mother, so Soling has to put some of her money aside for the opium her mother is addicted to.
Soling has pawned most of items of value they had left from her old life, but she finally decides she has to sell the last item of her father’s that she own. It’s a gold puzzle box. And no one will buy it. Desperate, and not knowing its worth, she presses ever deeper into the seedy parts of the city.
Her puzzle box has attracted undue, and unwanted, attention. The Imperial guard takes her and reunites her with, of all people, her former betrothed. He, then takes her to the prince. The prince believes her father was right; their navy had been no match for the Western forces. The prince also believes her father had designed a specific weapon, or explosive, before his death, and the prince wants it.
But the prince and her former fiancé aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed Soling. Before she knows it, she’s aboard a ship with one of her father’s former apprentices. And it’s clear he no longer sees her as a child.
He also brings a new theory to Soling. He believes the opium that is addicting their country is no ordinary opium, and that it’s got a more sinister element. He isn’t wrong.
Worried for her mother and little brother, Soling knows she has to get back to her family, but she also knows she has to see this adventure through.
There’s a lot going on, but Jeannie Lin writes so elegantly, you don’t realize how much politics factor into this Steampunk world until the end when you see where Soling is going. While there are gadgets aplenty, this book really focuses on the “punk” part of the Steampunk genre. With politics and rebellion dogging Soling’s heels, what can she do but continue her adventure?
I can’t wait to read the next book in the Gunpowder Chronicles, because I’m really invested in Soling’s journey, and I have to find out which side she chooses in the brewing rebellion.
With beautiful and vivid writing, Jeannie Lin transports you to 1800s China, and creates a world so fascinating, you won’t want to leave.

 

***ARC Courtesy of Berkley

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four-half-stars

 

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