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)