Queen of Spades
on Nov. 11, 2014 :
The best way to express my feelings about this book is to divide it into Pros and Cons:
Pros of this work:
1. I really like the abstract look of the cover. For me, it adds to the mystery component.
2. I will give lots of points for the attempt to put out something “out of the box”. Spies, wizards, World War II—so many different elements in one story. It does take a lot of gumption to try and have all of that within one work. That is worthy of some finger snaps.
3. There are a few characters that I really liked. Renee really stood out. I admired her wisdom and her quiet spirit. Ken was a character that really caught my attention along with the intriguing make up of Father Gabriel. The support and tenacity of Otto also warmed my heart and made me smile whenever he was mentioned.
Opportunities for improvement:
1. In The Tower’s Alchemist, new individuals were introduced in practically every chapter. Sometimes, up to five new people. All before we even get to the main ingredient in the recipe, as they say. Not only are they placed in the chapters, but it’s done in a way that’s a bit nonchalant and we don’t know what purpose the person serves until much later, if not at all. Maybe it was to keep the whole element of suspense going but there is a way of bringing new people in without it feeling overwhelming. From a reader’s perspective, there are way too many characters thrown into the mix.
2. The first four chapters of The Tower’s Alchemist was action, action, action with no clear indicators of the cause. Once Chapter Five arrived, the author slowed down the pace and began to drop in more narrative. However, those eye drops felt more like cement bricks, and even worse, they were placed in strange spots. Certain elements that were placed on one chapter were better suited to go along with the action that related to the back story in another chapter.
3. The Tower’s Alchemist is supposed to be set during the time of World War II. The thing which threw me off was that some of the dialogue didn’t quite fit the setting. Whether this a true detriment actually depends on the reader. For those who don’t weigh in heavily on dialogue matching history, this obvious glitch may not even register. For those who thinks that dialogue matching the proper times makes a story even better, this will stick out like a swollen thumb.
4. Isabella being an effective spy is NOT believable at all. What type of spy reacts to the bad guys calling her by her non-spy name? Don’t they give classes on maintaining your poker face and not blowing your cover? Yet on more than one occasion, and through one-on-one dialogue at that, the moment someone she thought she could trust says her actual name, it’s like all of that goes out the window and she is like, “How do you know about me? How do you know my real name?” Multiple times she gets herself in jams where she should know better, or where other people have to come in at just the right moments to save the day. I’m not saying Isabella can’t make mistakes but you would think she would learn after the first couple of times to put up a more effective guard, and even more so, rather than go into an operation all rogue, you employ back up in case somebody goes flip mode.
5. The length of the chapters were all over the place. A few were about ten to fifteen pages while a few were closer to thirty pages. Chapters 13, 16, 17, and 21 really stood out because the action in the chapters, rather than utilizing scene separations, should have just been another chapter instead.
6. In addition to her spy swag being less than mediocre (aka atrocious), I’m not a fan of Isabella's overall disposition. Isabella stays stuck in this rut and she comes off as pretentious and insensitive. Perhaps Isabella will gain more likability as the series continues but as it stands right now, I don’t find myself caring about what happens to her.
7. Through this entire story, the spy angle and the element angle seemed more in competition that flattering each other. Part of it is how the alchemist information was placed in this work--almost like an afterthought or some type of commercial break. This is a shame because the usage of the magic is what I found the most enjoyable. I could have easily done without the added layer of Isabella being a spy because I wanted to experience what she could do with her magic. The information involving the different stones and symbols could have been better served as a glossary at the beginning of the book as opposed to the lackluster interlink attempts in the gargantuan blocks of narrative.
Verdict: 2 out of 5 Stars
Despite the ambitious aim of this work, The Tower’s Alchemist does too much in its goal to be out of the box. Too many characters, lack of a tidied resolution, major fail of Isabella as a credible and engaging main character, and the disproportion of narration, conflict, information, and historically accurate dialogue really hurt the star power of this undertaking.
(review of free book)
on April 4, 2014 :
You can see my review here:
(reviewed 2 years after purchase)
on Feb. 9, 2014 :
Honestly, I was intrigued by Escobar's book because it seemed so unlikely a read. That is, I could not fathom an author combining wizardry, alchemy, Nazi Germany, espionage, time travel and vampires into something intelligible. Boy, I was WRONG. And I've never enjoyed being wrong more. This book is not only intelligible, it is smart, sometimes funny, heartbreaking, thrilling, relate-able, and expertly paced.
Escobar seems to effortless combine all of these interesting fantasy and sci-fi tropes without completely overwhelming her characters, the plot or her reader. In fact, I, like so many of her characters, felt that it was only natural that Miss George, the main character, used her alchemy to fend of vampires and Nazis alike.
Indeed, the only reason this book would not receive a perfect rating (I would give it a 4.8) is that I wanted more of an outsider's view on the fantastical side of Nazi fighting resistance. I was left wondering how all of these magical and paranormal intrigues were kept at bay from the normal masses, but I have not read the next two books, though I fully intend to do so just after writing this review, so my wondering may yet be answered.
This book is made more wonderful because of the main character. So many strong female characters are written as unfeminine, off-putting or violent, and, while Miss George is sometimes forced to act similarly, at times, it is clear that she also craves normalcy, love, and long term stability. She is feminine and a arguably, feminist, by simply allowing herself to be feminine and strong simultaneously. I loved her p.o.v. I loved her complexity, the friends she meets along the way and her ferocious and frightening enemies. And, like Miss George, I'm always in skeptic mode, wondering which friend or enemy will reveal him/herself to be other.
The well paced plot, the effortless dialogue, the expertly edited and refined text, and the vivid imagination of Escobar all create a story that is quickly consumed but that leaves you thinking about it long after you've finished. Add Escobar to your MUST READ list.
(review of free book)
on May 16, 2013 :
Like most young women her age, Isabella would be happy to spend her time having fun with friends, reading brides’ magazines and planning a future with the man she loves. But the world is at war and the good guys need her for her unique and particular talents. She is an alchemist and can bend natural forces to her will. This makes her an ideal adversary to go up against Nazis who count wizards, vampires and terrifying Black Wolves among their numbers. Vowing to retire, the brave young woman takes on one last mission: to stop the Nazis from deploying a monstrously deadly bio-weapon. I cheered Isabella for her persistence and her commitment to the cause, and liked the way the details of the secret service she works for and biowarfare were inspired by actual WWII events. It made the story that much more believable.
(reviewed 4 months after purchase)
on March 19, 2013 :
This amazing novel focuses on an English spy working in France during WW2. However, the plot differs from other spy novels written about this period. The strong heroine uses alchemical symbols to aid her work. Spies on both sides of the war employ similar ploys. The heroine does her job as best she can despite the magical tricks others use against her, at the same time attempting to come to terms with co-workers who have died.
The writing style pulled me right into the mind of Isabella, or Emelie as she was sometimes known. The plot drew me along during skirmishes and revelations when she faced friend or foe, all the while trying to find her father and the link to her past. The end astonished me.
(reviewed 36 days after purchase)
on March 4, 2013 :
REALLY enjoyed this one! I wasn't sure what to expect (WW2 and warlocks?) but this one was a fun read.
It starts with the main character, Isabella, who is tired of the spy life and wants to retire. However Europe is raging with war, as the Nazis have allied with warlocks to create deadly weapons and frightening creatures in order to win.
Isabella is an alchemist trained by the Gray Tower, and agrees to go on a mission (which she hopes to be her last) and has to extract another alchemist who created the deadly "Plague."
Of course it wouldn't be fun if the mission was easily accomplished, so she has to fight her way through dangerous enemies, and eventually she finds out that the people who trained her aren't the benevolent mentors she thought they were.
I'll stop there because I don't want to spoil anything, but there are definitely intriguing questions (some of which are answered, others that are promised to be answered).
(review of free book)
on March 2, 2013 :
I truly enjoyed this book. Alesha Escobar is a wonderful storyteller and weaves an alternate world where magic is commonplace and those than wield it hold the world in the balance.
The story takes place during an alternate World War II and starts with people trying to kill our heroine, who goes by many, many names. The story will take you from battle to battle, with few breathers in between. Filled with mysteries and betrayal, the main character must make her way through France, complete her mission, and not get killed in the process. Did I mention that she seems to grown enemies as quickly as she loses allies?
To add to that, I loved the way the book ended. It had a twist ending I would have never seen coming, and yet made total sense in hind sight.
The only thing I did not like about this novel was the editing. Though the book was edited well enough for me to read and review it, it did take longer than usual for me to read and the errors were plentiful, though they rarely detracted from the reading (unless you're an editor, in which case you can't help but notice). The errors I found were almost always systematic, meaning she made the same mistakes throughout the entire novel. With a proper editor, this book would have been well worth five stars.
Source: Gifted by Author
eReader: Stanza for iPad
File type: ePub
(reviewed 88 days after purchase)