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The Alchemist
Donna Boyd
Ballantine, 234 pages

The Alchemist
Donna Boyd
Donna Boyd is the author of The Passion and The Promise, as well as numerous novels of historical and contemporary romance and romantic suspense under various pseudonyms. She lives in a restored turn-of-the-century barn in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she is at work on her next novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
Interview with Donna Boyd
Excerpt from The Alchemist

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Randolph Sontime -- mysterious, rich, powerful, charismatic -- walks one day into the office of New York psychiatrist Anne Kramer and confesses, casually, to the brutal and senseless murder the press has dubbed "the crime of the century" (exactly who has been murdered isn't clear at this early point in the book). He tells Anne it's necessary that she understand why he committed the crime. First, though, she must know who he really is.

Thus begins a fantastic tale of ancient and powerful magics, of love, obsession and betrayal. Millennia ago in Egypt, Sontime was Han, a young man chosen for education in the mystical House of Ra, repository of all the arcane wisdom of the world and training ground for all the world's Practitioners. There Han meets Nefar, a beautiful young woman, and Akan, a studious young man. Each is individually gifted, but together they are much more -- a triad of unimaginable power whose like has never been known before. Their pursuit of this union, and of the forbidden secrets of the House of Ra, transforms them in unimaginable ways, but also unleashes tragedy and ruin. Determined, in atonement, to use their magic only for good, they create a work of sorcery intended to change the world -- but the triadic unity that's the basis of their power is torn by jealousy and ambition, and things go terribly wrong.

Meanwhile, around the edges of Sontime's narrative, questions hover: whom did he murder? For what purpose? And why has he chosen Ann Kramer to hear his story?

Not really fantasy, not quite horror, and not exactly romance (Ballantine lists the book in its romance catalogue, but has given it a striking non-romance cover that signals a bid for crossover readership), The Alchemist ventures deep into Anne Rice territory, with its melancholy protagonist, its lush dark atmosphere, and its sensuously-worded narrative, not to mention its immortals and its roots in ancient Egypt. But Boyd separates herself from Rice-ism in the economy of her tale, and in her interestingly different take on the Egyptian angle, which convincingly re-interprets, in supernatural terms, a somewhat mysterious area of real-world history. The triad of Han, Nefar, and Akan is compelling, both in unity and in separation, as is the theme of alchemy that runs through the story -- the alchemy of magical transmutation, the alchemy of spiritual transformation. And Han is unusually convincing as an immortal character, with his cool sardonic distance, and his meditations on the boredom of eternal life and the frailty of memory.

Some readers may find the book too short: the major encounters are richly detailed, but the transitions are brief, with whole millennia disposed of in a few paragraphs. Too, the ending is somewhat predictable (there's a twist, which the astute reader will perceive well before it arrives), and experienced fantasy readers may find the magic that plays such a large part in driving the plot annoyingly vague at times. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing start to a new supernatural series, and offers many interesting possibilities for continuation.

Copyright © 2002 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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