t is a special treat to pick up a book by a new author and discover a wonderful story. With a new author, the first encounter is new territory, I don't know what to expect. So it is a small
thrill when the new author turns out to be an accomplished story-teller. An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is Curtis Craddock's first novel, and it is a delight to read. Another new fantasy author that I will have
to watch closely.
An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is set on a fantasy world where continents and islands magically float in the atmosphere of a giant planet. The inhabitants of this planet sail in flying airships between
the different skylands - and who doesn't love flying airships? It was one of the treasures that made the John Carter series of Barsoom so fun back when I first read them in high school. Some of the elite have powerful magic talent, they
possess a bloodshadow, which can commit all kinds of mayhem - such as possessing a person, or killing. There are assassins that can walk between mirrors. There are priests assisted by weird steampunk technology. There is a ton of intrigue,
with betrayal and hidden agendas. Craddock does a splendid job of world building.
The heroine of this novel is Isabelle, a daughter of the powerful and scheming Imperial Majesty Leon XIV, she is a princess. But despite the royal blood, Isabelle doesn't have trace of magical talent, she cannot
summon the dread bloodshadow. Also, Isabelle was born deformed, she is missing all but one of the fingers on one of her hands. Indeed, at Isabelle's birth, one look at her obvious imperfection almost results in Isabelle being murdered. The infant
is saved by the king's musketeer, Jean-Claude. He announces that the king himself would wanted the child to live, indeed, it is Jean-Claude that bestows the name of Isabelle on the babe, which is the name of King Leon's mother. The aristocracy recoils at Isabelle's
handicap, and she is ignored and shunned. Isabelle grows up under the watchful eye of her protector, Jean-Claude, and proves to be a brilliant girl with a charming personality. The reader can't help but cheer for Isabelle as she faces peril and mystery.
The peril begins when Isabelle is stunned to learn that she has been betrothed to the younger prince of Aragoth. The two previous girls betrothed to this prince didn't survive long enough to actually get married, so as
Isabelle and Jean-Claude sail to Aragoth, they immediately thrust into a world of factions, hidden agendas, and secret agents. Many of the people are acting for their purposes, which run contrary to the idea of Isabelle marrying the prince. Jean-Claude is the
only person Isabelle can trust, and he is but an aging musketeer. But despite his advancing years, Jean-Claude retains his wits and fierce loyalty.
There are a lot of narrow escapes. Isabelle ultimately ends up in the scary lair of the derange villain (well, there are several villains in this novel, but Isabelle ends in the clutches of the schemer who has been playing
a long game, and now is about to enact a diabolical plot). Isabelle's character shines through, making allies and using her sharp wits to make a desperate escape attempt. It is great fun. This is a well-plotted novel. I highly recommend it, and I am glad to
see that book of Isabelle's saga has already been published.