Zoe, the alchemist

The Elusive Elixir (An Accidental Alchemist Mystery) - Gigi Pandian

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Zoe, the protagonist of this cozy mystery, is an alchemist. Three hundred years ago, she accidentally found the elixir of life and made herself immortal. Since then, she’s tried to lead a quiet life and help as many people as she could with her healing herbs, infused with her magic, but life keeps throwing hurdles in her way.

This novel, #3 in the series about Zoe, starts with her visit to Paris. Some time ago, her friend, roommate, and gourmet cook, stone gargoyle Dorian, accidentally made himself flesh and blood. Unfortunately, his transformation seems to be reversing its effect. He is slowly turning back to stone, and Zoe is searching for a way to arrest his reverse metamorphosis. She wants him alive and cooking.

Dorian’s predicament seems to be linked to backward alchemy, the branch of alchemy whose adherents cut corners. As lazy and ruthless as they come, backward alchemists wish to be immortal without first going through the discipline and rigorous research of the true alchemists, like Zoe.

Centuries ago, the backward alchemy rituals were recorded in a mysterious book Dorian has in his possession. Zoe is trying to unlock the secrets of the book – that’s why she traveled to Paris – but no matter how hard she tries, how many questions she asks, she can’t find the cure for Dorian’s malady. She’s managed to decode a small part of the book, but her potions and spells based on her partial understanding only slow down his petrification process and make Zoe herself sick.

Her fumbling in Paris in her quest for the cure for Dorian also brought her to the attention of a bunch of backward alchemists, and they will stop at nothing until they learn all of Zoe’s secrets and recover their long-lost book. They follow her back home, to Portland, they break into her home, they threaten her friends. Their short-cut immortality is as unstable as Dorian’s unnaturally mortal body, but unlike him, they seem evil. Or maybe they just want to stay alive and don’t care who else might suffer to sustain their immortality.

The idea behind this tale is fascinating, but the execution is weak. The plot meanders without a focus. The characters are flat and uninteresting, even the gargoyle. The writing is unprofessional and leans towards telling and explaining instead of showing. And the murder mystery doesn’t conform to any of the mystery genre rules: there are no clues, no suspects, no clever revelations, and no questioning of witnesses. In fact, nobody is a detective in this story. It seems to solve itself.

Also the formatting of this Kindle book was dismal, but that might be because it was an ARC. I hope the publisher at least fixes it before they release this novel in Jan 2017.