Monday, November 10, 2014

eBook Review: Gunpowder Alchemy

In 1842, the gunpowder might of China’s Qing Dynasty fell to Britain’s steam engines. Furious, the Emperor ordered the death of his engineers—and killed China’s best chance of fighting back…

Since her father’s execution eight years ago, Jin Soling kept her family from falling into poverty. But her meager savings are running out, leaving her with no choice but to sell the last of her father’s possessions—her last memento of him.

Only, while attempting to find a buyer, Soling is caught and brought before the Crown Prince. Unlike his father, the Emperor, the Prince knows that the only chance of expelling the English invaders is to once again unite China’s cleverest minds to create fantastic weapons. He also realizes that Soling is the one person who could convince her father’s former allies—many who have turned rebel—to once again work for the Empire. He promises to restore her family name if she’ll help him in his cause.

But after the betrayal of her family all those years ago, Soling is unsure if she can trust anyone in the Forbidden City—even if her heart is longing to believe in the engineer with a hidden past who was once meant to be her husband…

Steampunk! Politics! Opium! Romance! Engineering I don't understand! Guys welcome to Jeannie Lin's new series the Gunpowder Chronicles.  Before I go further and so we're all clear on this, unlike her other books with Harlequin, this series is less about the romance and more about everything else.  Though to be completely fair her books have always been about balancing both sides of the story, so one foot more away from romance not that big a stretch.  As a sidenote I think she's officially become one of the most tagged author in my blog, at least insofar as reviews go.  Sweet!

So your father is executed for failure, your mother has become an opium addict, your meager existence isn't even of interest to the mice...and the only token you have of your happier memories turns out to be next to worthless.  What do you do?

If you're Soling you agree (in mild desperation) to help recruit your father's former allies in helping to conceive a way to win back their lands from rebels and outsiders alike.  Even though you don't trust the monarch, his henchmen or even your one time fiancee.  And did I say mild desperation? How about this is really the only chance she has at maybe keeping her family from starving to death.

This is a fast paced story.  From when the Crown Prince's lead henchman nabs her to leaning some startling truths about what it can mean to have no other choice, Soling isn't given very much time to ponder things.  For part of the book she is basically forced along by other people's whims and dictates, unable to really direct her destiny even as they require more and more from her.  She struggles at times, both unable to truly reject the Empire that destroyed her family and equally unable to trust that same Empire and those who swear loyalty to it.

Throughout Soling's trust and loyalty is essentially pitted against the survival of her family.  She's confronted with people she knew as a child of 10 who she now meets as an adult.  Her "Uncle" Yang Hanzhu, who she used to follow around and idolize.  A man who showed her tricks and nurtured her curious mind.  Now a man living in exile on the sea, forsaking the "Flower" Empire in irreparable ways.  A man who sees a dark secret in what the foreigners have done and will do anything to find a way to end it.

Her one time fiancee Chang-wei, a man she never met, but heard stories of and had girlish daydreams about.  Now a man who found himself once more working for the Empire who killed his colleagues and mentors a decade before.  A man who speaks the foreigner's tongue fluently and is frequently seen with them, making him an outcast amongst his peers.  A man who sacrificed everything to learn how to defeat those foreign invader's and doesn't regret those actions.

I admit I know very little about more modern Chinese history, such as when this book takes place.  The "Opium Wars" and the "Heavenly Kingdom Rebels", my history classes in school focused more on American history then world history at least after America was formed.  Even though this is obviously a world that flourished differently in the sciences (let's go steampunk!), these are both real world occurrences that Lin incorporates into the story in Soling's journey.

Sideline, when I heard Soling's mother had disguised herself as a man and gone on to ace the Imperial Entrance Exams once upon a time I was like WEI WEI (from THE LOTUS PALACE and THE JADE TEMPTRESS), but I'm not sure I want to think about Wei Wei becoming an opium addict...

This is only the first book in the Gunpowder Chronicles and unlike Lin's previous novels, the next book will once more have Soling narrating (which is good, I liked her narrative tone). I'll be interested to see what happens next, as in the end Soling is much too embroiled in the events to back out and live the quiet life again.