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The Risen Kingdoms #1

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

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In a world of soaring continents and bottomless skies, where a burgeoning new science lifts skyships into the cloud-strewn heights and ancient blood-borne sorceries cling to a fading glory, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs is about to be married to a man she has barely heard of, the second son of a dying king in an empire collapsing into civil war.

Born without the sorcery that is her birthright but with a perspicacious intellect, Isabelle believes her marriage will stave off disastrous conflict and bring her opportunity and influence. But the last two women betrothed to this prince were murdered, and a sorcerer-assassin is bent on making Isabelle the third. Aided and defended by her loyal musketeer, Jean-Claude, Isabelle plunges into a great maze of prophecy, intrigue, and betrayal, where everyone wears masks of glamour and lies. Step by dangerous step, she unravels the lies of her enemies and discovers a truth more perilous than any deception.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published August 29, 2017

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Curtis Craddock

6 books129 followers

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Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,030 reviews2,604 followers
August 30, 2017
4.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2017/08/29/...

An Alchemy of Masques and Shadows turned out to an incredible surprise and one of the most engrossing reads I’ve had in a long time. In truth though, I hadn’t known what to make of the novel’s description when it first crossed my path. Its story’s scattered allusions initially prompted me to approach this one with a wariness I usually reserve for unknown quantities, but ultimately this mishmash of genre elements ended up being one of my favorite aspects of the book. There seems to be something for everyone, whether it’s science fiction, fantasy, historicals, steampunk or action and adventure that tickles your fancy.

The story predominantly follows two characters: Jean-Claude, a stouthearted and valiant musketeer who must nonetheless act the drunken fool in order to protect Princess Isabelle, who hails from a powerful family of sorcerers despite possessing no magical aptitude of her own. Their fates first collided on the day of Isabelle’s birth, when the discovery of her congenitally deformed hand almost led her to be killed on the spot. Only through Jean-Claude’s intervention was her life spared, and from that moment on, the musketeer became something of a surrogate parent for the princess.

As Isabelle grew up, her real father was cold and cruel towards her, disappointed in her disability and lack of magic. By trying to force her powers to manifest, he ended up destroying the mind of Isabelle’s best friend Marie, who became a “bloodshadow” after his traumatic magical assault on her psyche. Nevertheless, Isabelle found other ways to flourish, finding joy in secretly studying science and mathematics, two fields that are forbidden to women. She has even conducted her own research, publishing works under a male pseudonym. The only one who knows about this is Jean-Claude, who has looked out for Isabelle for years, making sure she is well-protected from those who see her deformity as proof that she is evil, or cursed.

Jean-Claude’s job is about to get more complicated, however, when one day a half-human-half-clockwork messenger arrives with a missive from the Kingdom of Aragoth, whose Prince Julio has asked for Isabelle’s hand in marriage. Not only are the politics behind the arrangement messy, with a high threat of assassination attempts and other dangers, things in Aragoth are also very different from Jean-Claude and Isabelle’s home of the Isle del Zephyrs in l’Empire Céleste. Instead of using blood-based systems of magic, the sorcerers of Aragoth are Glasswalkers who can pass in and out of mirrors.

Musketeers, Bloodshadows, clockwork cyborgs, Glasswalkers, airships and floating islands…is there anything this book doesn’t have? And as if that wasn’t enough, in the middle of all this is also a disorienting jumble of court intrigue and deadly politics. At certain points, this avalanche of information almost got to be too confusing, too much to take. And yet, just before my brain could short out like an overloaded circuit, Craddock started bringing it all together. Massive in scope and imagination, the world of The Risen Kingdoms became more immersive and real to me the longer I stayed in it. As evidenced from some of the naming conventions, the author draws a lot of inspiration from European history, but most of everything in this story is completely fresh and new.

Also, I can’t tell you what a breath of fresh air it is to read a book where the heroine actually SHOWS readers how smart, strong and capable she is through her actions, as opposed to having the text TELL us again and again—which is never as effective as authors might think. A lot of debuts tend to fall into this trap, but I’m glad this book managed to employ “Show, Don’t Tell” by allowing us to develop a connection to Isabelle through experiencing her actions, words, and feelings instead of resorting to unwieldy exposition. To wit, she stood out to me without the narrative having to idealize her character or use any “Chosen One” clichés, not to mention Isabelle being an overall worthy protagonist also allowed me to sympathize with Jean-Claude’s fierce loyalty towards her. She’s someone who earns the respect and admiration of those around her, and this in turn made it easier for me to root for her too.

Evocative and creatively imagined, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is a gorgeously written debut encompassing a splendid mix of speculative genre elements. Lovable characters made this one a joy to read, not to mention my delight at how almost every page would bring something new and awe-inspiring about the world to the table. If you haven’t made reading this a priority yet, you should get on that right away. As a series opener, this book made a huge impression on me, and I can’t wait to see where the story will go next.
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
724 reviews1,205 followers
September 8, 2017
[4.5 stars] An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors was such a cool book! It had interesting character profiles, totally immersive world-building, and an abundance of drop-in details that I found totally original. When I first received the book for review and saw cover quotes from Brandon Sanderson and Lawrence Watt-Evans (two of my all-time favorites), I knew I was in for a good read, I just didn’t know how good. Curtis Craddock did not disappoint!

Right off the bat I was impressed with the unique setting for this story – a gas-giant planet where the only way to travel between floating rock “islands” is through use of airships. The author describes the science of how things stay aloft within the first few chapters as:
A vast downward-pointing cone of rock bristling with an upside-down forest of salt-encrusted, aether-emitting cloud-choral stalactites that kept the Skyland aloft.

A mouthful, for sure but technical jargon aside, his world-building goes well beyond setting. Craddock also infused multiple blood-inherent magics, a few carefully placed steampunk elements, and an elegant culture borrowing from French influences. I was truly dazzled by the combination of all of these components, and the unique atmosphere they created is easily my favorite aspect of the book. If you pick it up, you’re in for a bombardment of cool ideas. Left and right they’ll hit you, and the discovery process of so many minor aspects of this world is a lot of fun.

The book also offers an interesting plotline filled with court intrigue, intelligent characters, and an unravelling mystery. I enjoyed every aspect of the characters and thought their relationships and individual developments throughout the book were highly satisfying. Especially Isabelle. Her academic mindset and struggle to acclimate to situations well beyond what she ever thought she’d have to face were especially compelling. Compounding her already great character profile was a second POV from her faithful Musketeer, Jeane-Claude, who was every bit as interesting and savvy as Isabelle. I did wonder a few times if their insights were a tad unbelievable, but for the sake of plot advancement, it didn’t bother me too much. The constant intrigue in the book kept it a page-turner and even surprised me with a few twists. It astounded me how such a slowly paced book could still be totally immersive and exciting. It did take a bit for the book to find it’s stride, but once it did, I couldn’t put it down!

Overall, and Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is a delightfully original start to a series that has the potential to be among my favorites if it continues on with the same gusto. If it isn’t already on your radar, it should be. Especially if you love fantasy. And great world building. And Musketeers…

I want to thank the publicists at TOR/Forge and Curtis Craddock for a chance to read and review an early copy of An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors – I enjoyed it thoroughly!

I'm hosting a TOR/Forge GIVEAWAY of An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors , open to US and Canada Residents. My Goodreads friends and followers get at least 5 entries. This giveaway will run until midnight [MST] on Friday Sept 8, 2017. Good Luck! :) UPDATE - A winner has been chosen! Congrats Scarlett Readz and Runz :)

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.NikiHawkes.com

Other books you might like:
The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1) by Jim Butcher A Shadow in Summer (Long Price Quartet, #1) by Daniel Abraham Daughter of the Empire (The Empire Trilogy, #1) by Raymond E. Feist A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan The Waking Fire (The Draconis Memoria, #1) by Anthony Ryan
Profile Image for Katie Montgomery.
294 reviews192 followers
March 25, 2019
Things Katie Enjoys In A Novel, As Correlated With "An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors":

_X_ Calculus jokes

_X_ Period-appropriate prose

___ Talking cats

_X_ Strong, sassy heroines who have no trouble kicking it with the boys

_X_ Believable, likable characters

___ Pandas

_X__ Swashbuckling

_X__ Witty repartee, preferably in which a member of the nobility is fearlessly sassed

_X__ Magical colleges and/or general graduate-level spell nerdery

___ Dragons

_X_ People wearing awesome hats

_X_ Perfectly executed genre mashups

_X_ Court intrigue that is actually intriguing

___ Fairytale flavors that induce minimal eyerolling

_X__ Spaceships and/or lasers*

_X__ Princes/princesses who have their shit together

_X_ Romance that keeps it classy

_X__ Sword fighting

_X__ Dimension-jumping

_X__ Character that could be played by Maggie Smith in the BBC dramatization

_X_ Satisfying endings

*technically airships and ancient tech, but y'know what? Imma allow it.

For the record? I think this is the most checks any book has ever hit in this list before. Aside from that, it is just a solid, wonderful novel. GET ON THIS TRAIN Y'ALL, IT IS A DIRECT TO AWESOMETOWN. Craddock is now on my very short list of autobuy authors. It for sure deserves its Kirkus star.
Profile Image for Allen Walker.
152 reviews1,328 followers
May 16, 2023
Absolutely fantastic. Contending for my top read of the year so far. Musketeers, airships, excellent political intrigue with real stakes, a slowly unraveling mystery. So good!

Full review to come!
Profile Image for Bookwraiths.
698 reviews1,044 followers
September 14, 2017
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is crisply written, cleverly plotted, and highly imaginative; a fantasy which succeeds in combining elements from different speculative fiction genres into an entertaining opening to The Risen Kingdoms series.

The tale begins with dashing Musketeer Jean-Claude racing against time to arrive at the birth of the girl who will become the center of his life: Isabelle. This offspring of royal, bloodshadow magicians nearly killed after birth due to a deformed hand. Only Jean-Claude’s timely intervention saving her and thereby creating their strong bond.

Skip forward two decades, Isabelle is a young woman who has grown up being verbally abused and mocked by her father due to her lack of magical powers. This mistreatment culminating in the youth’s best friend Marie being assaulted by her father, transformed into a “bloodshadow” who is not alive but certainly not dead either; this hollowed out ghost of Marie acting as a reminder of Isabelle’s failure to find her magical power. But, our determined princess has found ways to survive and flourish, secretly studying and excelling at science and mathematics (Both subjects forbidden to women.), even going so far as to publish treatises under a male name. The only person who knows of her successes Jean-Claude; this musketeer pretending to be a drunk so as to subtly watch over his beloved Isabelle, even as he aids her in plotting an escape from her father’s household.

Circumstances take an unexpected turn, however, when a messenger arrives from the Kingdom of Aragoth. Prince Julio of that kingdom asking for Isabelle’s hand in marriage. The messenger being honest with Isabelle that this is a political arrangement, where the Prince must marry a woman of a house blessed with magic and she is the only suitable candidate. This future as the future Queen of Aragoth allowing her escape from her present situation but also sure to be filled with political machinations, courtly intrigue, and unlooked for deadly surprises!

What sets An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors apart from other recent fantasy offerings is the refreshing world building. Airships. Floating islands. Musketeers. Gunpowder. Magic. Clockwork cyborgs. Curtis Craddock incorporating these elements (and many more) into this world, creating a very unique setting which demands readers’ full attention, while also threatening to overwhelm them with the massive amount of information. Yet somehow, someway, the author never goes too far with his explorations of the setting, immersing his readers fully yet never submerging them completely.

As for the characters, they are what I would call standard with a twist. Standard in that Isabelle is the usual princess who is gifted yet ignored, abused yet determined, held back yet destined for greater things. And, Jean-Claude is the middle aged protector, who loves his ward as a daughter, and is willing to go through hell itself to see her safe, secure, and happy. All of which means readers have encountered these two archetypes before in other stories, but Mr. Craddock does add his own unique take on both with Isabelle actually showing how competent she is instead of just telling everyone and Jean-Claude behaving like a middle-aged musketeer would, not able to fight, run, or do anything like he once did.

The narrative itself starts off fairly slow, but the pacing does steadily pick up speed once Isabelle makes her choice regarding the marriage proposal. Villains rear their heads. Politics take center stage. And Isabelle and Jean-Claude must find a way – difficult as it may be – to survive the growing cataclysm in which they are embroiled.

The only criticism I can level at this novel is that it is a two character show: Isabelle and Jean-Claude. If you love them, then you will love the book. If you don’t like them, then the unique world building and exciting plot will not save the day here. I say that because this is truly an emotional journey about these people and their bond, not an action-adventure or epic fantasy which happens to focus in on a character or two.

Beautiful, compelling, and emotional, Curtis Craddock has crafted a unique fantasy with An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, one which will delight many fantasy fans. No, it didn’t inspire me as it has so many other reviewers, but even I can acknowledge its unique creativity, pulse-pounding excitement, and delightful humor. Certainly, this is a novel lovers of strong female leads should immediately go pick up.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 168 books37.5k followers
November 11, 2017
Wow, what a wild ride!

I'm amazed that this is Craddock's first book. The writing is so tight, so witty, so rich with image that I was drawn in from the start, even though I'm wary of any more special-girl-in-repressive-patriarchal-settings SF/F. Craddock makes it work anyway, because the characters are so vivid, rather than the stock characters you meet in that situation. And the sure grace of the narrative voice, avoiding the too-often encountered awkward lumps of sentence fragments and chains of overused simile, was a pleasure to read.

He also makes the worldbuilding work, though again, I'm not fond of plopping undigested wodges of earth-cultures into another world, in this case seventeenth/eighteenth century France and Spain. If you're going to posit musketeers in sky ships, you pretty much have to borrow the France of Dumas.

But to this Craddock adds 17th and 18th century philosophical thinking and terms, while spinning a wild tale of weird inherited magic, a Leibnizian clockwork religion (which is not easily hand waved off by postmodern heroes, hurray!), and well-designed sky ships on floating continents.

Jean-Claude is our single musketeer (oh, to meet the rest of them!), appointed guardian over Isabelle, the disabled daughter of a really heinous comte and his equally nasty family. He guards her and guides her as she grows to become a mathematician and a strategist, before she is propelled into high politics through an arranged marriage, at age twenty-four. Watching her figure out solutions to impossible situations was sheer bliss. The narrative voice doesn't tell us she's bright, it shows us in endlessly creative ways.

There was never a slow page, and the ending built to a breakneck climax that almost tipped over the edge into too fast. I was left with some questions but overall it came to such an enjoyable resolution, while avoiding the too-easy and too-often seen series stretcher in which everyone conveniently turns stupid long enough for the big bad to escape, in order to come back with a bigger and badder threat in book two.

There is such scope for exploration in this setting, and Craddock resolved things in such a way that I don't expect book two to be the same story, only with artificially ratcheted stakes.

This is one of my favorite reads of the year.
Profile Image for Scott  Hitchcock.
779 reviews224 followers
January 10, 2019
A lot of different elements to this book. It's epic fantasy in nature but bordering on steampunk and grimdark in some aspects and firmly in the historical fiction, noir and mystery camp.

The story takes place in an alternate version of the 15th century with princess Isabella of Spain cast in a fictitious role of the real life character with aspects of the historical lineage of Christ thrown in for good measure. Political intrigue between warring factions both within the country and France where the story starts, Saints, black magic and an eternal bishop like power build the story. The countries aren't called France and Spain but that's what they are.

I liked the writer's style, the grimdark aspects and the overall flow of the story. I look forward to book 2 which comes out in under two weeks.
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,566 reviews259 followers
August 30, 2017
I received an eARC of this novel from NetGalley.

Isabelle is despised and neglected by her cruel father because she was born with a deformed hand and without bloodshadow magic. The neglect is fine by her because that means she has more time to follow her passions by illegally studying math and science. Although Isabelle is a princess, she doesn't believe she has any future prospects until an offer of arranged marriage to the Prince of Aragoth opens up her world. Isabelle travels from her home on Isle des Zephyrs in l'Empire Céleste to the Kingdom of Aragoth with Jean-Claude, the King's Own Musketeer who has guarded since birth and is her dearest friend. Isabelle and Jean-Claude quickly learn that the two locales are quite different from one another - for one thing the people of Aragoth don't deal with things by bloodshadow but by glasswalking. The two also find themselves caught up in dangerous intrigue - the prince's previous fiancee was murdered and en route to Aragoth and Isabelle herself is nearly murdered proving that there is a plot against her. If Isabelle and Jean-Claude want to have any chance of survival, they'll need to get to the bottom of this mystery and try to prevent an oncoming war.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock is an absolutely marvelous read that has easily become one of my favorite books of 2017 so far. There is so much to love about this new release, but the stunning world building, unique magic system, and outstanding characters are what really took my breath away. To begin, the world building is so complex, layered, sprawling, and absolutely immersive that I'd say it rivals the likes of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Shades of Magic. I could vividly picture the world of the Risen Kingdoms. Essentially, nations are composed of floating islands surrounding a gas giant (like Jupiter) as the remains of a world destroyed long ago, and to travel between nations people sail via airships. On that note, it's clear that the Risen Kingdoms have a long and rich history that I would love to know more about in the future.

The magic system of Isabelle's world is also hooked me right away even though Isabelle herself has no magic. It's been awhile since I've seen one quite so cool that has such a rich history behind it within the novel. I don't want to give too much away, but in their religion only a few types of magic are legally sanctioned for the leading families. Two that play a major part are the ability to cast bloodshadows and to glasswalk. Bloodshadows are blood red, can feed on human life, and can enslave others by turning them bloodhollows - this ability is particularly frightening, especially considering that the sorcerers controlling the bloodhollows can spy on their enemies using the eyes of those they've magically enslaved. Of the two, though, glasswalking, sounds both cool and convenient - sorcerers who have this ability can travel quickly by moving between mirrors - yet it could also go wrong with very dangerous consequences for the glasswalker.

Finally, I'd like to talk about our two leading characters, Isabelle and Jean-Claude, for both are the heart of the story. Isabelle is incredibly refreshing as a no-nonsense, clever, and curious young lady who has decided to take her education into her own hands when it comes to topics that are off limits to women like math and science. She even publishes scientific papers under a male nom de plume, plus she sneaks equations into her sewing and paintings. To say the least, Isabelle is a woman I could really respect and my respect and appreciation for her just continued to grow over the course of her story. As much as I loved Isabelle, though, Jean-Claude totally steals the show. Jean-Claude is a King's Own Musketeer who is incredibly loyal to Isabelle. He's protected her and been there for her as the father she's never really had since her birth. He's seen some pretty brutal stuff and he's getting a bit older - he's probably in his upper 40s - so he isn't quite what he once was, but he's the kind of person you'd want to have on your side no matter what. He's also very brave and has a cynical wit to boot.

Overall, I can't recommend An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock enough. If you love fantasy with with a steampunk flair, epic world-building and fantastic characters, 17th century French and Spanish history, The Three Musketeers, and Treasure Planet, I have a feeling you'll love this novel, too. I can't wait to see more of this world!

Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books451 followers
November 25, 2021
Started out promising but devolved. I found the plot compelling at first and wanted to keep reading, but the tide turned with too many cliches, character shortcuts, and lazy writing. It ended up feeling more Young than Adult. I won’t be continuing this series.
Profile Image for wishforagiraffe.
212 reviews50 followers
September 22, 2017
I loved this book. I love the feisty and bright Isabelle, who is smart and charismatic, and whose insecurities are so real for the way she was raised. I love her devotion to the people who deserve it (those who care about her for HERSELF, and not for her station) and to her cause - peace. I love her father-figure musketeer Jeane-Claude, who is incredibly good at reading people and who is loyal first to Isabelle, even though he's supposed to be loyal to his king foremost.

I loved the setting, both the clearly Renaissance-inspired courts and the floating landmasses and airships and strange physics. I love the magic system, even though so far we've only gotten a glimpse of what promises to be far more intriguing magic that the current generation of people have lost from their past.

I love the great depictions of female friendships between Isabelle and her ladies, who defer to her as station demands, but still give solid and sensible advice.

I love the plot, with plenty of layers to unravel, and a positively creepy villain with some rather interesting motivation.

I really couldn't find any fault with this as I was reading it, because it's just wonderful. It even has a really great cover, and a map drawn by the author!

I would suggest this for folks who love airships, love princesses with agency, enjoy witty repartee, like gunpowder fantasy, fantasy of manners, and Renaissance-inspired settings.
Profile Image for The Captain.
1,073 reviews372 followers
June 12, 2019
Ahoy there me mateys! With about 80 active series in progress, I really shouldn’t have started one more. But I saw this and couldn’t help meself. The crew has been raving about this one and y’all be right! In fact, I will let me scalawags convince ye lollygagger’s to go with the flow and join the rest of us!

Tammy @ books,bones,andbuffy:

The nitty-gritty: As twisty and complex as Shakespeare, this story surprised me in every way possible. This is definitely one of 2017’s “must reads!” . . . I can honestly say I’ve never encountered a world quite like this before. If you love genre mash-ups, then you’ll love this heady combination of steampunk, court intrigue, and mystery, with a dash of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.” . . . [This be] one of the most surprising books I’ve read in quite some time. And by surprising, I mean that it continued to surprise me up to the end. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Craddock adds yet another layer to his story. I often use the term “multi-layered” when writing book reviews, but reading this book was literally like watching a garden of strange and beautiful flowers unfurl their petals.


Its story’s scattered allusions initially prompted me to approach this one with a wariness I usually reserve for unknown quantities, but ultimately this mishmash of genre elements ended up being one of my favorite aspects of the book. There seems to be something for everyone, whether it’s science fiction, fantasy, historicals, steampunk or action and adventure that tickles your fancy . . . Musketeers, Bloodshadows, clockwork cyborgs, Glasswalkers, airships and floating islands…is there anything this book doesn’t have? And as if that wasn’t enough, in the middle of all this is also a disorienting jumble of court intrigue and deadly politics . . .Also, I can’t tell you what a breath of fresh air it is to read a book where the heroine actually SHOWS readers how smart, strong and capable she is through her actions.


So, great characters and an amazing world. What more could you possibly want. Oh, maybe a beautifully written story that puts you in mind of the likes of Dumas, easy to digest prose, vivid descriptions and a slippery eel of a plot that is huge in scope but that comes together in a very satisfying way? Well, if that’s what you’re looking for then prepare to be happy because it’s all here in abundance . . . A mash up of European alternate history and steampunk told with flair and absolutely wonderful to read. I loved this.

Yer Captain:

All ye dimwitted dunderling fools who have not yet read this gem deserve 20 lashes and no rum rations! Ye must visit this port as soon as possible because Isabelle and Jean-Claude be adventurers worth knowing. And who doesn’t want to learn everything they can about continents in the sky and the sky ships that sail them? Arrrr!

I need book two immediately!

x The Captain

Check out me other reviews at https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordp...
Profile Image for Lukasz.
1,310 reviews210 followers
November 20, 2017
What a book! I’m impressed. Not only it’s good, fresh, intelligent and imaginative, it’s also author’s debut work. Dude, you’ve got some skills.

L’Empire Céleste is ruled by Grand Leon and inhabited by Clayborn (regular folks) and Saintborns (direct descendants of saints) who can kill with their shadows, or hollow people out and take away their volition. Isabelle des Zephyrs is a Princess and the daughter of the Comte des Zephyrs – cruel aristocrat who enjoys destroying others. Sometimes for fun. Sometimes for power or to prove a point. Not only Isabelle is a girl, but also she has a malformed hand (with characteristic wormfinger) and no inherited magic. That makes her a total failure in the eyes of her da.

Isabelle has a brilliant mind but as she lives in strongly patriarchal society, women are not allowed to do anything worth doing (for example study mathematics or languages). They can paint and accompany their husbands but that’s basically it. As Isabelle’s mind needs stimulation, she pursues secretly a career in science and mathematics under a male pseudonym. Only one person – her protector and King’s Own Musketeer Jean-Claude knows the secret. Jean-Claude is trustworthy, he was at her birth and he loves her dearly. More like a father than a servant.

Isabelle doesn’t expect to get married and she’s prepared to live her double life till the end. But then, one day, she learns that she was betrothed to a prince of Aragoth, who is considered to be likely next in line to the throne of that foreign nation. It turns out that a religious official – artifex Kantelvar (half human, half clockwork) – pushes really hard for her marriage. As if there was more to it than it appears…

I was impressed by this book on many levels.

The plot is full of twists and intelligent court intrigue. It mixes subgenres in a compelling tale that contains elements of science fiction, fantasy, historical fantasy, steampunk , action, and adventure. The stakes are high. Nothing is what it seems. Discovering layers of court intrigue is a delight although sometimes it’s indicated to make mental notes to keep the track of all the revelations.

Characters are very human and lively. It’s difficult not to care for them. Both Isabelle and Jean-Claude have a lot to offer to a reader who looks for someone to root for. Isabelle is intelligent (and we actually see her solve complex problems), caring, good at heart but also, especially when it’s needed, her mind is cold and analytical. She’s not a beauty. Author described her in following words:

Half a girl wide and a girl and a half tall, with a long face, Isabelle was well on her way to being horsey.

Imagine a cross between Ada Lovelace and Sherlock Holmes and you’ll get the feel of who Isabelle is. I liked her as a heroine because she’s got brilliant mind but also heart for those who are meaningful to her. She’s able to act and make decisions fast. Additionally, even though the plot revolves around her marriage, there’s really not much of a romance in the book. And for me, it’s a plus.

Jean-Claude is past his prime and he’s definitely not a fan of the aging process. He is born of the trickster archetype, he'd much rather talk his way out of a situation than fight his way out. He’s an expert in selling a man his own boots. In conversation with his King, he reveals what’s his biggest weapon. It was a bit unexpected but really funny.

Magic system – shadows that can kill, Glasswalkers who’re able to walk through mirrors – is pretty cool. I like the idea that such gifts come from old bloodlines connected to Saints. Also, the gifts were portrayed in an engrossing way and well thought of in terms of their limitations.

Another thing I really appreciated was a nice balance between wry humor, sinister plot and more serious, sometimes quite violent moments. People die and suffer, but some scenes are written with a nice distance that allows readers to get some relief. Here’s a sample describing a beer Jean-Claude gets in a bar:

“She slapped down a mug of something that was, he suspected, technically alcohol, but only because it had a good lawyer.”

Language is neat. I haven’t seen any typos, except maybe Jean-Claude name that’s written as Jean-Claude and sometimes as Jean Claude. Not really meaningful, but for the sake of consistency editor should stick to one I guess. The author mixes French words with English but it’s rooted in the story and I enjoyed it.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is an excellent book. I can’t wait to read sequel once it’s published.
Profile Image for The Shayne-Train.
363 reviews90 followers
November 2, 2017
Looking for a steampunk/alt-history fantasy revolving around royal magic-users, religious half-machine cyborgs, and flying galleons set in a pseudo-medieval France and Spain?


For reals, the levels of adventure, derring-do, and utterly fantastic world-building are dialed up to 11 in this book. HIGHLY recommended for fantasy fans, and readers that like a bit of court intrigue and manipulation with their sorcery.
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 109 books535 followers
August 30, 2017
I adored An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors. A polymath, physically-disabled princess who is delightfully clever! An aged musketeer, utterly devoted to the princess he loves as a daughter, and brilliant in his own way! A world of floating islands and blood magic and mirror-projections! Villains who are complex and creepy, never falling into caricature! This really has it all. The world-building is complex but never overwhelming; I was hooked within the first few pages, and was eager to grab any chance I could get to read onward.

I am excited to read more of Craddock's books in this world. I'm now a fan.
Profile Image for Anitha.
112 reviews16 followers
April 24, 2023
4.25 Stars

It took me sometime to get used to the world, terminology and the writing style. Once I crossed that initial 100 pages, the intrigue and mystery of the plot kept me on the edge, especially in the last third of the book. As much as I like court politics, characters are what I love the best in this book. Isabelle is a fantastic main character who is smart and savvy. Jean-Claude is a musketeer, who is not just loyal but also encourages her to be independent. Their dynamic is refreshing.
Profile Image for Melliane.
2,023 reviews340 followers
August 30, 2017

Mon avis en Français

My ENglish review

I confess that I was really intrigued by the story by reading the summary. Fantasy and space are often some very delicate subjects for me and I do not venture much into this type of novels, yet An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors seemed very promising and I’m really happy about it!

In this novel we discover the story of Isabelle, a young woman who, because of her lack of magic and the deformity of her hand, finds herself in an excluded position. Fortunately for her, her maid Mary is there to accompany her in all her nonsense and Jean-Claude, the king’s musketeer is always there to save her from bad situations. Her life is a perpetual routine and she hopes that her father will allow her to study science and mathematics secretly and yet … When one day a man from the neighboring kingdom comes to Isabelle to propose a marriage with their heir, she finally sees her exit door. But this new adventure will bring its share of dangers, between assassins, bombs and fires, our heroes will have to face many enemies.

I really found this novel fascinating! The author has created an original world that we take pleasure in discovering. Isabelle is an assumed young woman who tries to free herself from her father’s nets, although it is far from simple. She will also attract the attention of the Great King but also of a whole new kingdom that does not want her. She will find herself in an enormous conspiracy of which she seems an important point. Gradually and with the help of Jean-Claude, they will outwit them and understand what is really going on. I admit that the author easily drags us and manipulates us with his characters to reveal us with surprise the truth at the end of the story.

Yes, I really had a great time with this novel. The story is really appealing and the characters are all very interesting to discover. A very good discovery for me and I am very curious to see what the author will propose to us afterwards!
Profile Image for Lezlie The Nerdy Narrative.
409 reviews413 followers
June 27, 2022

Honestly, I'm shocked that I've been in the Booktube world for 3 years (maybe 4?), watched Booktube even before I started my own channel and I've never heard one peep about this book, its series or the author! I'm stunned.

A heartfelt thank you to my friend Cait, who selected this book for me to read and review, because this was my favorite book of the 9 books I got my nose in for the month. Actually, a better word to describe me after I started this book would be obsessed.

The author did put me off in the first chapter, in fact, I thought it might would join the DNF gang because it was chock full of navigational terms that I was completely ignorant of. Fortunately, we got away from that very quickly (honestly though, it was AIR SHIPS!) and we settled into establishing some world building, science and the kicker that closed the deal on making sure I was completely smitten: the nobility and their blood-borne sorcery.

In addition, I very much enjoyed our cast of characters encountered throughout this tale of mystery, magic, intrigue and alchemy. Most especially, I loved Jean-Claude, a King's Own Musketeer, assigned to protect and aid Princess Isabelle. For those of you who wish for a strong, intellectual female lead character, Curtis Craddock provides in SPADES here with Isabelle.

This is the first fantasy book I've ever read that could actually print on its cover, FOR FANS OF A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. (Except Curtis Craddock doesn't have 40 POVs whilst also killing off all the characters)

Phenomenal read, definitely on my shortlist of being my favorite read of the year. Cannot recommend enough!
Profile Image for Jeremy Jackson.
121 reviews21 followers
February 19, 2019
Man, that was good! Immersive, well-written, and wildly imaginative. Impressive by any standard, but particularly for a debut; Craddock is an author I'll be following closely.
Profile Image for Mike.
387 reviews94 followers
February 4, 2018
I really enjoyed this book (and not just because the Steampunk square was my final one to completely fill in my /r/Fantasy reading bingo card). This is a book set on a world that, as far as I can tell, is a gaseous planet with floating land masses. The protagonists are a princess in what is basically a floating Steampunk France, born with no sorcery in a world where the ruling nobility in every nation is composed entirely of sorcerers, and the Royal Musketeer who has devoted his life to caring for and protecting her. The action kicks off when a high cleric of the Church arranges her marriage to a Spanish prince, which is historically and theologically a big no-no because the sorcerous lines of the different kingdoms are not supposed to mix. (Real world names used for simplicity because the fantasy veneer over the real-world culture is quite thin.)

So why was this not only approved, but indeed arranged by the Church? What kind of political schemes is the princess going to be caught up in the quagmire of the Spanish court, with the kingdom on the verge of a succession crisis and civil war? And how will the Musketeer keep her safe?

OK, I started sounding like a movie trailer voice-over there, but this was quite a good book regardless. Awesome characters (with Jean-Claude the Musketeer being a favorite), twists and intrigues aplenty, and a fascinating world. It was also a great book #1 of a series, in that it left me wanting more, but also with a neatly wrapped up story in and of itself. I want to read book #2, but I’m also content to wait.
Profile Image for Clara Coulson.
Author 28 books237 followers
June 26, 2022
Absolutely fantastic in every respect. Great characters. Great world-building. Great plot. I read this one a long time ago but never got around to the sequels; finally got copies of the sequels recently, so I did a reread, and I actually think I liked it more this time than the first time. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Jenia.
413 reviews101 followers
March 11, 2019
Tons of fun! I loved Isabelle and Jean-Claude was a badass. The gratuitous insertion of French and Spanish words made me grit my teeth tho haha
Profile Image for Matt.
214 reviews631 followers
September 1, 2021
I don't think I'm going to be able to - or more properly going to want to - finish this. It's a Dumas pastiche with a magi-punk vibe set on a trope world of floating continents on a gas giant where the setting seems to play no role whatsoever in the story. No big ideas in evidence, just a lot of a Grimdark stuff that adds up to less than the world building effort that went into it. The setting seems to be arbitrarily chosen just to be different. Like the proverbial Japanese painting that doesn't show Mt. Fuji because its standing on Mt. Fuji, departing from a trope doesn't mean you are actually doing something creative or interesting.

When you take science fiction and fantasy away from its Big Idea roots and try to make it a character driven story you really need to get away from simplistic archetypal characters - rogue with the heart of gold, the unconventional action girl struggling against a conventionally repressive society, etc. Archetypes just do not cut it when all you have going for you is whether the reader empathizes with the character and cares what happens to them.

I just don't in this case.


Well, it turns out that when you have insomnia, even the dullest and dreariest book can be a comfort. I made it through the book, and my opinion of it is hovering somewhere around 2 1/2 stars.

I continue to complain that the setting is pointless. At no time did any of the backstory or the physical details of the setting add anything to the story. The fact that ships sailed on seas of cloud rather than seas of water remained pretty meaningless. The nations, customs, politics, and so forth of this world remained entirely pastiche of 17th century Europe, with a France, a Spain, and various allusions to Moorish occupation of the Spain, an Italy, a Germany, and so forth. There is no invention here at all, and the author seems content to mix fantasy with super-science to create technobabble that is equally pointless.

I continue to complain that if the setting itself is not to be a main character or if not the main character of the story, then why are you doing genera fiction? The way the setting is novel adds nothing to the story. And the while characters are likeable, they as shallow as the politics of your politically driven intrigue plot. So if neither setting nor characters serve to carry the story, we're relying heavily on a cunning, well constructed and interesting pl0t - and we don't get that either.

While it is necessary to the action movie tone the book sets to have all the world leaders basically resolve all their personal problems as personal problems, the usual way that aristocratic politics work out is that they use their political and military might to force compliance with their will rather than trying to work out the problems themselves. Never mind that armies don't get unleashed, these leaders rarely try to leverage minions. The logic of the action is derived from super-hero comic books, and not from any internal logic of the setting. The great mastermind villain who is pulling all the levers of power and makes and unmakes fortunes as he wills, does not use his vast political leverage to secure his position and make himself unassailable, but instead retreats from the sphere he is most powerful - the political - to a private super-villain lair where he has taken captive the super-heroes and proceeds to monologue, thereby exposing him on the one front he is least potent, the physical. Naturally, within short order the super-powered sorcerous super-heroes quickly defeat their foe. Thus the plot also feels contrived and poorly thought out.

There is in the end a perfect storm of thread tying to achieve a 'happy ever after' ending despite all the death, mayhem, hard feelings and legitimate grievances everyone has - to say nothing of the all the greed and other base emotions at play. It feels rushed and thoroughly unbelievable, and the Grimdark character of much of the work doesn't feel like it serves the author's ultimate intentions, but is a bit of nihilism thrown in for style points.

Also, still continuing to suspect that it is not possible to get published unless you go off on an anti-religious rant in the first few pages of your fantasy or science fiction work, as it feels like everything I've picked up lately does that. On the positive side, at least this time it was related to the plot. On the negative side, it made the rest of the book rather predictable.
Profile Image for Emily.
296 reviews1,534 followers
September 6, 2017
Watch a mini-review in my August 2017 wrap up!

I received an advanced copy of this from the publisher through Netgalley.

3.5 stars

I really enjoyed this! A great bit of swashbuckling fun.

The setting was one of my favorite aspects of this book. We spend our time split between two fictional kingdoms--one inspired by France, one by Spain, in a time period reminiscent of the 17th century. Seems perfectly normal, except these countries are on continents that are FLOATING IN THE SKY! This was a really cool spin on things! Instead of ships, we get airships that fly between floating skylands. It's so much fun.

This takes place in a society that's extremely patriarchal (and by extension, misogynistic), but Craddock subverts this in some fun and interesting ways with our protagonist Isabelle. She's a brilliant scientist, but women aren't permitted to study the sciences, at all. That doesn't stop her, she just publishes her works under a pseudonym. At times this gets a bit flubbed, particularly towards the end, but I found Craddock's story to be ultimately successful here. As someone who reads a lot of fantasy that is inspired by Europe, this was really appreciated as so often writers brush off criticisms over the treatment of female characters in the name of "historical accuracy."

I think there was a missed opportunity when it came to the treatment of Isabelle's physical body. She is born with only one finger on one of her hands, which she does not have control over. Throughout the book this is called her "wormfinger," which I didn't like. One or two lines that directly touched on this and on Isabelle's own opinion of her body would have been a great addition. We get a few offhand mentions, but I would have loved something more direct. On several occasions Craddock tries to tackle Isabelle's own internalized ableism, which I thought was a great touch. I also like that by including an MC with a physical difference that others regard a deformity, Craddock subverts the "physical deformity=evil/villainous" trope. However, I don't think this was given that much thought compared to Isabelle's subversion of her patriarchal society, and the execution here was at times a bit sloppy.

That said, I still really enjoyed this! It was well paced, the world was so unbelievably rich, and I loved the characters! Isabelle, in particular, is a favorite. She's strong and smart, but she's also constantly learning. She doesn't enter society as a political genius, but we get to see her apply the skills she already has and learn new ones as she navigates the world, and this makes for some wonderful character growth.

The narrative voice here is also lovely. It feels era-appropriate, but only to a degree--we still move along briskly and don't feel bogged down by an older language style. There's an air of whimsy and fun to the writing that carries throughout the book.

Definitely going to look out for more of Craddock's work!
Profile Image for Esmay Rosalyne.
797 reviews
August 4, 2022
4.5 stars rounded up

Okay, that’s it, this is THE hidden gem of the year so far!!
It astounds me that more people aren’t talking about this! If it hadn’t been for the wonderful Lezlie (over on The Nerdy Narrative) absolutely gushing about it, I would never have known this book existed… and what a sad, sad world that would’ve been.

This book has everything I love and I was absolutely dazzled by the wonderful world that Craddock has created. Just to give you a vibe:
Renaissance-inspired setting, steampunk, airships, floating islands, bloodshadow magic, mirror magic, clockwork cyborgs, court intrigue, princess with agency, savvy musketeer, witty characters, found family and schemes upon schemes upon schemes… do I really need to say more?!

Now, the author definitely doesn’t hold your hand in this one. In fact, the first chapter was so chock-full of unfamiliar terms that I almost felt too intimidated to continue. And the political scheming and court intrigue can also be quite overwhelming… BUT I promise you that it will all make sense in the end. Just trust the author, you know exactly what you need to know at any given point in the story, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

While the world building was incredibly unique and immersive, it was the characters that kept me glued to the page.
Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs is one of my new all-time favourite characters. She could so easily have fallen into the ‘not like other girls’ category, but she absolutely didn’t.
Born with a deformed hand and without the bloodshadow magic inherent to her family’s bloodline, she has been despised by her father and shunned by society all her life. However, she has never let that get her down and it was a joy to see her navigate this world with her no-nonsense attitude and savvy mind.
And then there is the marvellous musketeer, Jean-Claude, who saved Isabelle’s life at her birth and who is now her guardian and dearest friend.
Their dynamic is amazing, just simply the best. And because I immediately fell for these characters, I was completely invested in their stories the entire way through.
They very quickly find themselves caught-up in an elaborate web of schemes when Isabelle is married off to the prince of Aragoth… whose former two betrothed were murdered before ever meeting the prince himself.
What follows is a story of high stakes, heaps of magic, intricate schemes, unexpected betrayals and also some deathly surprises.

This book was SO atmospheric and engaging, I never wanted to stop reading. What a delightful surprise. I need to know what my favourites are up to next, so I am 100% going to continue on with this series as soon as possible.
Highly recommend this one, it deserves so much more love!
Profile Image for Megan.
Author 4 books356 followers
December 8, 2018
This is easily one of my new favorites. I knew nothing about this book when I bought it, only that the cover made is sound like a steampunk fantasy, which it was!

The plot line follows two main characters, Isabella (the daughter a sorcerous count), who was born unhallowed, or without magic, and also with a deformed hand. Because of these two things, she is always treated very poorly. We also follow Jean Claude, a non magical muskateer who works for the king and has sworn his life to protecting Isabelle. When Isabelle is 24, she is betrothed to the prince of a neighboring country, which is odd because Isabelle is looked down upon because of her lack of magic and physical deformity. Once Isabelle arrives to her new country Aragoth, we find that motivations for bringing her there are more sinister than she realized.

The first half of the book was just okay for me, but then the middle hit, and holy cow! I've never seen so many twists and turns! I had no idea who the villain was! It was crazy! It seriously kept me on the edge of my seat towards the end.

This books has one of the coolest, most interesting and original worlds I've ever read about. It takes place on land masses that float in the sky and the main mode of transport between countries is by airship. The magic system consists of ten different sorcery powers, such as the ability to walk through mirrors and animate inanimate objects. I loved loved loved the steam punck aspects of this book! It was so good.

Isabelle is one of the most well written female protagonists I've ever read. I'm so tired of writers portraying strong female characters because they know how to kill and fight. Regardless of whose fighting and killing, violence is violence. In this book, the author displays how mental and emotional strength are just as important, and sometimes even more important, than physical strength. Because of her limitations, Isabelle was forced to use her brain. She was intelligent, clever, well-read, and observing. Because of this, she was able to thwart those who were physically stronger than her.

I liked how this book focused on a platonic relationship between Isabelle and Jean Claude, rather than making her protector a potential suitor. Jean Claude was a hoot. I enjoyed that he was older and not in tip top condition anymore. He accepted his challenges and persevered regardless.

Great book. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for The Speculative Shelf.
240 reviews67 followers
September 21, 2017
3.75 out of 5 stars -- see this review and others at The Speculative Shelf.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

In a floating world filled with airships and royal sorcerers, Princess Isabelle and her trusty musketeer, Jean-Claude, fight against a sinister plot that has been thousands of years in the making.

I was immediately drawn in by the wondrous setting and Curtis Craddock’s beautiful prose. The humor and clever turns of phrase were perfectly matched to such a fantastical story.

Isabelle and Jean-Claude are wonderful protagonists to follow as they are cunning, capable, and easy to root for. Their bond is a joy to witness, so it was a shame that they spent so little time together in the story. To that end, I wish character relationships, in general, were more at the forefront of this novel. The political maneuverings and motivations were a bit hard to follow and full immersion into the political theater becomes difficult when you only have access to the POVs of two outsiders.

These misgivings aside, this was an entertaining adventure in a fresh new setting. I look forward to seeing where Craddock takes the story next, as he has started (world)building a sandbox with loads of untapped potential.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
425 reviews182 followers
October 15, 2018
2.5-ish stars? I finally finished this (after 2+ weeks). I wanted to like it and felt strongly that I *should* like it, but something didn't click. I can't tell whether I just wasn't in the right mood for its flavor of courtly intrigue or whether it was unnecessarily wordy and short on charisma. The characters all felt distant, and I didn't end up caring very much about their fates.

It does have the coolest instant genetic sequencer I've ever come across, which makes our equivalent of spitting in a tube and sending it in via snail mail seem like a total letdown.
Profile Image for lookmairead.
454 reviews
March 30, 2022
This book swept me up and away and I’m so happy there are 2 other books in this series.

I would recommend this series to:

1. Folks that loved A Gentleman in Moscow
2. People that enjoyed the mirror magic from Uprooted
3. Readers that gobbled up the world building from Foundryside.
4. Anyone that loves a strong female lead characters (heck, yeah!)

4.5 (Rounded up so it gets on your TBR list faster)
Profile Image for Kelsey.
137 reviews240 followers
October 14, 2017
I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley for review.
Video version of this review here: https://youtu.be/AV2BbBHtpeI

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors takes place in a couple of nations designed to be obvious stand-ins for 17th century France and Spain in a world that superficially looks nothing like our own. It's a world with continents that float in the buoyant aether, said to be shattered remnants of a prior world. The saints are believed to have survived this shattering, and their magical powers are preserved in the bloodlines of each country's nobility under the careful watch of the clergy, who also guard the remnants of ancient steampunk technology. In the present day, travel between the continents is achieved in skyships, and the skies function as the equivalents of oceans, even supporting flying sea life.

Isabelle is a cousin of Leon XIV (think Louis XIV, though he seems a somewhat wiser ruler than his historical counterpart), but was born with only one finger on her right hand, a defect frowned upon by the superstitious. Even more troubling for Isabelle is her failure to manifest the Sanguinaire nobility's sorcery of bloodshadows as she grows older. Without sorcery, Isabelle has no prospects for marriage, and secretly devotes her time to scholarship, publishing acclaimed work under a male pseudonym. Academia is strictly forbidden to women, but Isabelle is a natural genius, seeing connections between sophisticated mathematics and art, science, and literature.

Jean-Claude is a King's Own Musketeer, but after he intervenes on Isabelle's behalf at her birth, he is "punished" with the charge of guarding her, which he accomplishes surreptitiously through most of her early life by pretending to be an incompetent drunkard. But Jean-Claude becomes the true, loving father figure that Isabelle wouldn't otherwise have, supporting her academic pursuits and encouraging her sense of self-worth. It is a shock to both of them when Isabelle is offered a betrothal to the younger prince of Aragoth (Spain), not only because Isabelle does not expect to be able to marry, but because marriages between sainted bloodlines are strictly forbidden by religious doctrine. The nobles of Aragoth are Glasswalkers, with the ability to send a version of themselves traveling between mirrors. With a struggle for the throne between the two brothers on the horizon, why have Principe Julio's faction turned to Isabelle as a potential future queen?

It's a premise that feels a bit like Arabella of Mars meets The Goblin Emperor by way of The Three Musketeers. And that's all before the real plot begins to kick in. The majority of the book takes place in the country that we must think of as Spain, as Isabelle and Jean-Claude deflect attempts on the princess's life and start to unravel the densely tangled web of the true reasons for her mysterious, perilous, and increasingly baffling betrothal, which only get deeper and deeper as the mystery unfolds. It's a wild ride of intrigue, deception, and political turmoil, and with a seemingly inevitable war brewing that threatens massive consequences, Isabelle takes upon herself the perilous role of an advocate for peace. It's ultimately a plot-driven and twist-filled story, elevated by the strength of its characters.

With regards to Isabelle's disability, I appreciated that Craddock consistently portrays her as comfortable in her own skin regardless of the prejudice cast her way. There is also a series of interesting moments throughout as Isabelle encounters several other characters with disabilities and disfigurements, and has to identify and put a check on some of her own immediate reactions and biases. I can't say if all of these were handled as well as they could have been, but it's an interesting through-line. As for Isabelle's role in this world as a woman, there is a sharp contrast between her original "unmarriageable" state in which she nominally has no value, but can pursue illicit scholarship under the cover of near invisibility, and her sudden elevation in social standing. As a betrothed princess and a suddenly important political figure, she seems to unexpectedly gain everything she's been denied, but she is only really valued for her ability to produce offspring, which is also deeply unsatisfactory. It's interesting to see Isabelle grapple with this seemingly lose-lose situation and ultimately triumph.

A few minor quibbles: I wish we'd gotten to see our brainy heroine actually DO more real math and science over the course of the story, as opposed to just applying her logical skills to politics and intrigue. And the villain, once revealed, goes a little overboard with the outrageous evil stuff. A book this firmly plot-driven will very rarely win a full five stars from me, but in my mind An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors solidly earns its four.
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