Rating: 4.5 stars
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Idrian left his small rural town for the big city of New Alexandria and an apprenticeship with the master alchemist, Maketh. Idrian keeps his head down, works hard, and learns. He’s lived a very sheltered life, but he’s willing to do whatever it takes to become an alchemist. When he sees his master and another man kissing passionately, Idrian is confused. He’s never seen such passion between any two people, and it awakens thoughts and desires within him. Wanting to give the two men their privacy, he leaves the shop, and eventually finds himself at the freezing workspace where Maketh is creating something special: a perfectly formed ice sculpture into which he is infusing a recently departed human soul so that it will live and move for the Festival.
Idrian has been warned not to touch the sculpture, but when he accidentally does and nothing bad happens, Idrian decides to take a kiss. He’s never been kissed before and the inert man made of ice seems like a safe try. But it awakens the sculpture and melts away the ice, making the man living flesh. He takes Idrian there on the table. Idrian wants it, but he’s not sure about anything. Except that he’s certain his master will cast him out for ruining the experiment.
Rowe has a sense of what he was in death, and Idrian calls to him to awaken once more. He remembers Idrian from their previous brief meeting, and wants the man. As his memories slowly return, he becomes the man he once was, albeit in a different, newly crafted body. When Maketh surmises that the act Idrian and Rowe shared keeps the soul tied to Rowe’s body, and hypothesizes that they need to have sex daily, Rowe is all for the idea. But Idrian, lost and confused and not even being consulted, runs. Idrian thinks that he can never go back to the master’s home. But being an alchemist is written on his heart, and he knows he wants to do that more than anything. When he learns that Rowe is fading away, he hopes he can still save the man that awakened such hunger in him. And hopefully save his job as well.
This story straddles the line of long short story and short novella, but oh my goodness, what an awesome amount of world building and story is packed inside. The authors, a husband and wife team, managed to convey so much in so few words that I was astounded and drawn in completely. We get a very clear picture of how magic and engineering work in his alternative world and it’s a wonderful mix of steampunk and true magic. For that alone, the rating on this story climbed for me, as the world is wonderfully imaginative and beautifully crafted.
Idrian is a sweet, naïve fellow, having come from a sheltered life. I really loved that he had a strong sense of self underneath, and that he was determined to have his dream. It made for a wonderfully fleshed-out character in so short a space. He definitely has his worries and confusion, and it made sense to me that when he was faced with it, he would run. But I liked that his few days away really clarified things for him. And he’s got a strong moral compass as well. When he learned that Rowe was, essentially dying again, he ran back to him. Not just because he felt he needed to save him, but because he wanted to as well. Because he was ready to accept his feelings for the man who had awakened them.
Rowe is a bit smarmy, it’s true, but I found I loved his attitude. We get to know him a little less well than we do Idrian, but what we do see is a man full of swagger with a sweetness underneath. I kind of loved that he has seen Idrian before, and wanted the younger naïve man, and that was part of what woke him, as well as what draws them together. I like Rowe’s sureness in himself, and that he’s ready for the get-go to make Idrian his.
I have to point out that the men’s first sexual encounter might be, possibly, a little dub con, as Idrian isn’t exactly sure what’s going on and Rowe won’t let him escape. It’s not described in detail on the page, and we do get the sense that although Idrian is confused and unsure, he does want it. There are also scenes where Idrian is discussed without being consulted about what he wants, which irked me a little only because this poor guy is standing right there and no one seems to care, but that’s a personal thing.
Overall, I have to say this little story is definitely worth a read. The world building is exquisite, Idrian grows into himself in a beautiful way, and it ends with the promise of happily ever after, even if we don’t quite see it. Alchemy Ever After has a fairytale feel, is well done, and I can absolutely recommend it to you.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.