Disclaimer: The Alchemist’s Theorem: Sir Duffy’s Promise, by Margaret Chiavetta, was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Mendel, an eccentric boy with an autistic nature, and the master alchemist Sir Duffy set out on a series of quests with their many weird and endearing creature companions like Esther the snake-ish gusselsnuff, and Gooder the fat, lazy, carnivorous horse. These determined travelers must venture across the continent of Terra Copia, an exotic land where the plants and animals in one forest are completely different from the next. It is up to them to safeguard secrets and dangerous artifacts from many enemies such as agents from the Academy of Advanced Disciplines, venomous pixies, and a mysterious pale stranger. If they fail, a terrifying curse will return to their land.
The Alchemist’s Theorem is one of those books that gets better as it goes along. It starts off by shouting “Fantasy world! New things! Here’s how stuff works!” and infodumping a colossal amount in one of the longest first chapters I’ve ever read. Then it starts to level out a little and incorporates the worldbuilding more smoothly into the material, although the chapters remain of mammoth proportion. Since the chapters are so long, the book itself seems incredibly short, with most of the action crammed into the last two chapters.
It’s a clunky thing overall in terms of pacing and worldbuilding (and why are horses called horses and cats called cats, but everything else has a different name? Even the other non-fantasy animals, like elephants, are not called “elephants”), but there’s something endearing about The Alchemist’s Theorem. While I felt that the writing could be much improved, especially in the descriptions, the characters were memorable and I liked the decision to make the main character autistic, since children’s and middle grade books as a whole desperately need more physically and/or mentally disabled/deficient protagonists. I won’t say that the characterization was perfect, but I at least liked the idea of what Chiavetta was going for.
There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement, but The Alchemist’s Theorem was engaging and Mendel was a loveable boy who I wanted to hug throughout the book. The reveal of the identity of the Great Lady was well done, as I wasn’t expecting it, and I see lots of potential for both the series as the whole and for Chiavetta as a writer.
My rating: 3/5
Warnings: Some violence.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
You can buy this here: The Alchemist’s Theorem: Sir Duffy’s Promise & paperbacks can be ordered wholesale through Ingram and Baker & Taylor.