By Jeannie Lin
Gunpowder Chronicles Book 1
Publisher: Intermix (Penguin USA}
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Length: 287 Pages
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About the book:
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…
Jeannie Lin starts her new series The Gunpowder Chronicles with a bang. Gunpowder Alchemy is a riveting story of love in dangerous times. Heroine Jin Soling is a young woman whose life was forever changed when the Western world came to the shores of China. She had always known the adage “Country before family. Family before self”, but at that time she learned all the saying could entail.Theirs had once been a wealthy family, but when the English ships tore through the Emperor’s navy as if it were “made of paper” Soling’s father, a Chief Engineer of the defenses, took the blame. Her father is put to death while the rest of the family flees to a small, remote village in the Hunan province with only a tiny portion of their former wealth. There was no one to turn to for help. As Soling explains, “Everyone I loved was a fugitive.” Once a pampered daughter, engaged to be married, Soling now becomes an assistant to the local physician. He treats her well and the wages should be enough for them to eke out a meager existence but her mother has become an opium addict.Desperate to keep her mother supplied with her “medicine”, Soling decides to sell a treasured possession, a puzzle box beloved by her father. Knowing that her tiny town will have no market for such luxuries she goes to a larger town only a day’s ride away, hoping to sell the box for enough money to keep her mother supplied for several months. Things do not go as hoped, and Soling finds herself fighting for her life against assailants. Only her captors turn out to be something far worse than common thugs – they are police.The police pass her on to the Imperial Guards, a situation Soling sees very much as moving from the frying pan to the fire. While these men treat her with some courtesy, she is forcibly removed from the village with no chance to even contact her family. She soon finds herself in the presence of a prince of the realm, a factor which does not offer comfort but ratchets up her tension.He claims to want to bring back the engineering designs her father had created, which were once considered too new and radical. It will be her job to convince her father’s former team mates to work once more for the Imperial court. It is in this dangerous political climate that she connects once more with Chen Chang-Wei, the man she was supposed to marry.The two are forced to work together on the prince’s latest plan for removing Westerners from China. The situation is fraught with peril. Her father’s death had taught Soling just how the empire responded to failure, even failure for which you weren’t at fault. It had also taught her that in the battle between tradition and innovation being waged in China, tradition was winning the field while innovation was having its head chopped off.Watching Soling and Chang-Wei cautiously move towards each other is an odd but delightful combination of heartrending and heartwarming. We know that Soling can’t help but wonder where Chang-Wei has been since he disappeared on the day her father died. Has he all this time been working for the very Emperor who ordered her father’s execution? How did he pull that off when the ministry exiled and purged everyone else in her father’s department? She knows it’s dangerous to trust anyone in this empire.Even setting aside what happened to her father, her life among the simple folk in her village has shown her that the common people mean nothing to the imperials. They have no rights and can be, as she was, arrested for no reason. Once arrested the chances to prove they did nothing wrong are almost non-existent. To Soling, the world is a constantly dangerous place and the best you can hope for is to scrape out a meager existence while drawing absolutely no attention to yourself.Being with Chang-Wei awakens the dreams of Soling’s old, privileged life. She can’t help but look at him and wonder “if only”. She is at an age where they would have been wed by now. Would theirs have been a good marriage? The joint assignment they are working on for the prince gives them a rare opportunity to spend time together without marriage. As she gets to know him, she finds herself increasingly attracted to him as a man.
I really loved the lead characters in this novel. Soling is just the right amount of rebellious, Chang-Wei just the right amount of traditionalist. Combined they highlight the best of Chinese culture. I loved how the steampunk elements of the story didn’t take it over but blended into the background and helped to create a magnificent, fascinating setting. Most of all I loved the quiet romance, which fit so naturally into the culture and situation of Soling and Chang-Wei. This is a truly terrific book for anyone looking for a tale a bit out of the ordinary.My Rating: 5 out of 5 Crowns