Die deutsche Rezension findet ihr hier
London, 1349: it is a nice evening for Seraphina; she is on a masque ball with her parents after all and is the centre of attention of a charming young man – the pharmacist’s son, Cyrus, who she happens to be interested in for quite some time now. However, before they can even start to plan anything for their future, the unthinkable happens: Seraphina gets stabbed in an assault. She would have died, had Cyrus and his father had not found a way to separate one’s soul from the body. Seraphina takes over a new body and continues to live, so the both of them have now much time left – forever.
Today, not much is left of the love they felt back then. Cyrus supervises every step Seraphina makes and tells her what she has to do. Everything she wants is to get away – away from him, away from this life, away from the murders. But her plan to let this body be her last goes awry. In the end, she has to ask herself whether she wants to continue living – but to what price? Besides, Cyrus is now after her, and he will never forgive her for leaving him.
“The Alchemy of Forever” is neither fish nor fowl, and that shows instantly. After the blurb you might think that Seraphina and Cyrus were once truly in love with each other, but that is what actually happens: they meet, it is mentioned that they found each other interesting (nothing more!), Cyrus promises to request her hand in marriage and then she gets killed. Love? You will not find that here because after that were are already in the present and then you cannot even speak of a neutral acceptance of each other.
Seraphina getting caught in a youth’s body causes even more confusion. Is this a YA novel now, will she get to make up for the years that were taken from her? (She was 14 when she died and took over the body of an adult.) After that, many things indeed reminded me of a typical YA novel. I wondered why it was even necessary to create all that fuss about the souls; for the most part, we are confronted with issues addressed in any contemporary novel, though the author changes her course again later. Still, the book is hard to classify because it does not really belong anywhere.
There are too many things that do not work. For example, Seraphina’s age is often said to be 600 years. Not more than 600 years, exactly 600 years. In conclusion, the present would be in 1949, but it is obvious we find ourselves in more recent times. That might be bean counting, but such details are not unimportant.
Otherwise, the plot seems to be rather forced. It would have been too easy if Seraphina was actually determined – as she claims she is – to go on with her plan. Instead, she “accidently” ends up in another body of someone she originally wanted to help. Something like that just had to happen, unfortunately I have to say. It is more a desperate try to get the story going and less a logical consequence of the protagonist’s actions.
Everything after that is predictable and therefore extremely boring. Especially the ending is probably supposed to leave the reader on the edge, but all those pages before that were so dull I could not care less. It really does not help that there is nothing really happening or that Seraphina is constantly changing her plans. She decides something, but misses (literally oversleeps!) the right moment, and after it she changes her opinion again and again and again. Might be I am not the right recipient for that kind of behaviour. Usually, if I make a decision, I stick to the plan no matter what. Seraphina, on the other hand, does not seem to take her situation seriously.
As a result, I liked her even less. The author probably wanted to introduce a likable character, and just reading about her you would never know she has been killing people for centuries, even though people who wanted to die “anyway”. (Never mind that Cyrus did not really care about that little detail.) Her other mistakes are quite visible though, and there is not much you could like about her. Just think about what she does to the girl’s family whose body she inhabits now – sure, the family gets to enjoy their daughter/sister some more; they do not know she died in that car accident. But in ten years the body will turn to dust; every body they take over does. What happens then? Will she pretend to run away? Will she pretend to die, or maybe torture the family with their daughter’s “suicide”? Will she actually die? For that, she would finally have to carry out one of her plans, but we get confronted with enough reasons why she does not really want to die yet. The author obviously just had to introduce another conflict that cannot be possibly solved and that came as surprising as everything else: not surprising at all, that is.
The only likable characters are supporting roles that barely get mentioned; at least you can hope you will get to know more about them later.
Only the style is mostly pleasant and has its nice moments, but also gets quite kitschy way too often. There was a really telling line I cannot quote, unfortunately, as I read the German translation. Anyway, it resulted in me staring at the text in disgust.
Flowery language can be nice if it does not get too much; then it becomes annoying which makes it useless and unnecessary. Those attributes also apply to the drawings within the book. (Are they in the original editions as well?) I normally like such things, but in this case it was mere decoration that mostly was not even connected to the text.
“The Alchemy of Forever” by Avery Williams might have been a good idea to start with, but in the end we get a highly constructed and predictable plot, unpleasant protagonist who creates her problems herself inclusive. It is nice to read on a very basic level and if it were not for the kitsch, this might be a positive point about it. It might not be the worst book ever written, but it is definitely not a good one.