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The Alchemists' Council
by Cynthea Masson
ECW Press, $14.95, 421 pp
Published: May 2016

The Alchemists’ Council begins with an account of the creation of the universe, how a Singular existence devolves into a manifold creation, with inherent conflict, and yet with a way to return to the original state.  Then the human-scale story begins.

Jaden is one of the few selected to become an Initiate into the order of The Alchemists’ Council, which employs knowledge, mysticism, and magical powers to shape reality. Opposing the Council is the Rebel Branch, whose members are convinced the Council is going about its business in the wrong way, for the wrong ends. Jaden has so much talent that whichever group with whom she allies is going to come out ahead; but she has conflicted loyalties.

Fortunately for all of existence, she is wise enough to recognize the seemingly trivial as significant. So when bees start to disappear, from the illustrated margins of manuscripts and from the world, Jaden and her friends set out to solve the riddle. After all, bees are Nature’s alchemists, transforming nectar to honey; if they are disappearing, that can’t be a good sign. When you think about it, all of nature seems to turn on alchemy: green things spinning sunlight into sugar, grazers converting grass into milk, earthworms digesting rock and leaf-fall into soil.

So with animals and plants doing 98% of the work, what are the Council members doing? Like the Norns maintaining Yggdrasil, they heal rifts in the energies of the world. They hold reality together according to the principles of their order and fend off attacks from the rival order. They also send out hints and clues of their existence. These hidden messages are what potential Initiates find and heed, and if they answer the call they have passed the first test.

With this book, Masson joins the ranks of mythopoeic writers. Her style is modern, even spare compared to Tolkien or Elizabeth Moon, but like them she has envisioned a world rich in magics and marvels.  The Alchemists’ Council is the first in a trilogy that continues with The Flaw in the Stone. It ends on a cliff’s edge, but the actions are complete and you are gasping at the precipice, not in free fall or clinging to a tree root as you reach for a strawberry. Written for adults, it also qualifies as YA in that friendships between young people are the heart of the story.

I was very impressed by Masson when I met her at World Fantasy. A professor at Vancouver Island University, she is approachable and a lovely conversationalist. – Chris Wozney

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