The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova. ★★★1/2
I have no idea why I didn’t like The Alchemists of Loom more. It has a lot of the elements I want out of a book… but for whatever reason, it just never landed.
Once Loom was a free world, but then it was conquered by the Dragons in the world above, the cloud filled Nova. Ari knows that direct resistance to the Dragons’ rule is futile but she fights against them the ways she can: from the shadows and as a thief. Cvareh is a Dragon who’s stolen plans from the king and fled down to the realm below, hoping to get to the Alchemist’s Guild, the only group who could possibly help his family over throw the reigning house. He’s pursued by the king’s guards with orders to kill, and the only thing that saves him is running into Ari. They make a deal. She’ll help get him to the Alchemist’s Guild, and in return, he’ll give her a boon.
First off, the world building. I love fantasy world building, and I’m always looking for well constructed, imaginative settings. In this regard, The Alchemists of Loom really should have been perfect for me. The story contains two different worlds (one on floating islands in the sky, another on the shadowy ground) that were both fairly well realized. I also liked that they’re undergoing an industrial revolution instead of being stuck in the medieval stasis of so many fantasy settings. It gives it a bit of a steampunk vibe, although I wouldn’t classify it as steampunk.
However, I think I wanted to get more of a sense of the culture and society of the Loom. It took me a long while to figure out the functions of the five different guilds, and I would still liked to have seen more of how family structure and such worked. I feel like I never got a complete picture.
Regarding the characters, I liked them okay but never felt super attached to them. Again, some of them fit into the categories of characters I usually like! Ari is competent, driven, and doesn’t have a trace of “Not Like Other Girls” about her. In fact, her most significant relationship is her mentorship/friendship with her apprentice Florence. Oh, and Ari’s bisexual, one of the things that initially drove me to read the book. I’m not sure how I feel about the tragically dead girlfriend in her backstory though. Since it’s not about a man, I wouldn’t call it fridging, but I’m still tired of tragically dead girlfriends as character motivation.
For the first eighty percent of the book or so, the plot didn’t excite me much either. It’s mostly a pursuit story. Ari, Florence, and Cvareh are trying to get to the Alchemist’s Guild; the King’s guards are chasing them. Dangerous situations and fights ensue, and Ari and Cvareh reluctantly learn to trust each other. I have a feeling their relationship arc is heading towards the “enemies to lovers” trope. The good news is that towards the end of the book, there were some pretty good plot twists. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make me change my mind about not reading the sequel.
Again, I have no idea why I didn’t like this one more! It has elements I’m primed to enjoy, but it just never inspired me to keep reading.