The Tower’s Alchemist by Alesha L. Escobar
Book One in The Gray Tower trilogy
Amazon | Amazon Author Page
Note: This book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. There may be light mention of certain segments to further explain pros and cons.
Greetings! The Review Board here to share its thoughts on The Tower’s Alchemist. Before getting to it, let’s take a look at the blurb via Amazon.
The Nazis have unleashed occult forces throughout Europe and the Allies are forced to recruit and employ wizards to counter their attacks. Among them is the battle weary spy, Isabella George, a Gray Tower dropout trained in Alchemy. Longing for retirement and a life of peace, she accepts one final job-extract a deadly warlock from Nazi occupied France and prevent him from unleashing an alchemical weapon that will devour the continent.
But France is crawling with the Cruenti, vampiric warlocks who feed off other wizards. When things don’t go according to plan, one Cruenti sets his deadly eyes on her.
Betrayal is everywhere. Even some of her closest allies cannot be fully trusted. Worse still, she finds, she can’t even trust herself. She becomes a woman torn between her charismatic spy lover who offers her what she desires most, and one of her closest confidants, whose soft seductive eyes hold deadly secrets about her past, and the Gray Tower itself.
Plans within plans. Plots versus counter plots. Heists gone wrong, sword-wielding Catholic priests, and the greatest manipulation of history that has ever been seen, is just a taste of what Isabella George is in for, in her final mission.
First to state her observations, Mini Truth:
Imagine, if you will, an alternate earth where magic exists, along with many other mystical creatures: vampires, wizards, alchemists. Now, try to envision a different time. World War 2, to be exact.
In a time when a war is raging, and nothing is as it seems Isabella George finds herself in a tough situation. She’d grown tired of fighting, surviving and doing things that she’s been told were necessary for the well-being of many. Isabella George is a double agent (triple even) with the power of alchemy, which she needs to keep concealed. She realizes that she needs to go on one last mission and that her “particular set of skills” would be beneficial in order to accomplish it.
This world is jam-packed with magic, mayhem and the unknown—this includes Isabella’s past, for she longs to know what happened to her father, whom also honed her same talents. The only problem is that there is much more that Isabella doesn’t know, than what she does.
I had some real problems with this story—too many, to be honest. I truly dislike it when there is a book which lures me in with its idea (potential premise) then lets me down completely. This, unfortunately is one of those sort of books for me.
At one point it got so bad, that I began to nitpick. I don’t typically nitpick.
Suffice it to say, that I had a hard time getting through this book and I am going to give you a list of reasons why.
However, before I go there, I’ll start with the things that I liked about the read.
- I really liked the cover. There is something about abstract, simplistic art that always captures my attention. This book really nailed it in that aspect.
- The idea. I am always attracted to “Out of the Box” literature. I love new ideas and original thoughts. So I found the premise to be intriguing and alluring. What nerd (like me) doesn’t love a good “alternate world and history” bit?
- Stella (the best friend/office mate), I think was my favorite character. Out of all of the many characters that were introduced, she seemed like the most genuine.
That was about all I can present to you in the form of positives. I’m sorry. Now, before I get into the negatives, I feel the need to explain a few things about myself as I’ll be presenting you with the negatives from that perspective.
If you are anything like me, you enjoy a complex read, however said “complex read”, must be easy to follow.
This is what I mean:
In an abstruse read, there must be a steady rhythm and flow; a comprehensive “time line”, if you will. Something that while subtly unraveling an enigmatic story line will help the read not lose track of the happenings.
Think of it in a “Alfred Hitchcock’ sort of way. Our beloved Mr. Hitchcock had a knack for presenting a complicated story in a very comprehensive way. Then at the end, he’d hit us with a twist and left our mouths wide open and our minds blown. That is the sign of a truly genius way of writing a story which entails many facets.
It must be easy to follow, period. So, once again, if you’re anything like me, if a story is too difficult from the very start, then you find yourself undeniably frustrated and ultimately angered.
That being said, let me get into my thoughts as it pertains to the Cons.
- There were way too many characters introduced too quickly.
- There were way too many different “groups” introduced too quickly.
- The writing feels displaced. I’ll explain. While it’s based in the past, the writing is significantly modern.
- The main character is supposed to be American, residing in England, yet her personality is too unstable. One minute she seems more English than American, the next minute it’s the other way round.
- There were too many instances in which there was modern language/slang introduced into the story that did not exist in that day and time.
- In the first few chapters, you are tossed directly into the middle of the action without even knowing how you got there. Basically, it was all over the place. I couldn’t, for the life of me, establish one main time line.
- Then the story stagnates and basically loses all liveliness. Yet, still we are continually introduced to more and more characters without knowing who anyone really is, or what their actual purpose in the story is.
- Way too many “code names” for the characters. You may need a pen and paper to keep track of who everyone is and what their code name is, and what role they play.
- After a while the main character began to tick me off. She just seemed annoying after a while.
- This book has several instances of “odd grammar” throughout. Little things, like not putting a space after an ellipsis. As well as too many ellipsis used.
- Some awkward sentence structure as well. For example: (PDF Page 8) “I knew that if I kept pushing myself, that I’d faint.” It just sounds weird. It should be “I knew that if I kept pushing myself, I’d faint.”
- Another example of odd grammar is whenever the main character, or any character for that matter quoted what another character said it was written incorrectly. Here is what I’m referring to; “Hmph…well enough. At least acknowledge all the hell I went through to get this formula here.” It should have been, “Hmph…‘well enough‘. At least acknowledge all the hell I went through to get this formula here.”
- There was more odd terminology used, such as “high school girl”. In England it’s known as “Secondary Education or Secondary School”.
- Oddly enough, I found a few hidden references to Sherlock Holmes. Like Baker Street, and Office #221B. Just weird. It made me wonder if it was intentional or not.
- Most of the organizations named throughout the story weren’t even really explained. So the reader had no way of knowing what they really were.
- Much of the characters seemed unoriginal. Like, a lot of the “bad guys” all sounded the same to me.
- Even up until the very last chapter we are STILL being introduced to MORE new characters. This should be the point where things are being resolved. Yet, they are not.
- There is absolutely NO resolution in this story. None of the problems were truly solved, things were still left in the air, there is a whole new level of conflict that is introduced—it’s an utter cliffhanger.
To make a long review, as short as I can without getting into anything else, I was very let down by this read for many reasons. I can only hope that the other two books are better because if I were to base my desire to read the other books on my experience with this one, I probably wouldn’t even attempt it.
Truthful Verdict: 5 Stars. I was highly unimpressed with this story.
Now to find out what she sees, Nikki Vision
Well, the blurb sucked me in, no pun intended, and I enjoyed the action packed first chapter. It neatly set the scene for a thrilling espionage meets myth and magic story line. Isabella is a feisty heroine and I liked the first person narrative voice. She came across as knowledgeable and trustworthy, only too able to look after herself in the many tricky situations she finds herself in – as a soon to retire spy, with a knowledge of the occult, which makes her perfect for one last job – to prevent a Nazi warlock from releasing a deadly chemical weapon on the whole of Europe.
The concept appealed to me and I was not disappointed on the whole with the plot twists and action scenes. For an alternative history novel, it is well-written with some good descriptions that help the reader to get drawn into the period setting. I wasn’t all that convinced by the dialogue, it seemed too modern considering the book is set during the second world war. Also, there was a little too much exposition and explanations that could have been worked into the narrative via conversations and actual active scenes from memory.
Isabella finds herself in many life threatening situations and as luck would have it, she is adept at occult magic and uses it to get out of these rather sticky situations by casting a Circadian Circle – again and again and again. I wondered if it might be an idea for Alesha, to maybe have another spell for Isabella to use, just to break it up a bit. Using the same spell over and over was a little annoying at times as it dulled the suspense aspect when she did get into another threatening situation, because as a reader, I knew she would be okay.
Characters were believable in the main, but there were quite a lot of them that really didn’t need to be there. The whole Nazi plot line was a bit misleading, because much of the story is to do with the fantasy and occult side of things, so I was a little disappointed that wasn’t more mingling between actual WW2 history, and this made-up version.
There is a lot of reference to the Grey Tower of Wizards, which adds to the intrigue as well as the mystery surrounding her father’s death. In fact there was so much going on that I felt rather full as I was reading it. Maybe the author tried to get too much into the first book: there is magic, mythological creatures, Nazis, wizards, mentalists, demons, espionage and a love triangle, my head was reeling with so much going on.
The pace really picks up when she leaves France and there is a lot of action and peril right until the end. I was exhausted, never mind Isabella, who seemed to constantly leap from one nail-biting scene to the other, but always managing to use her magic powers to survive. Indeed, she does make quite a leap at the end from fighting warlocks in Romania to suddenly finding herself in her own bed in Washington. Ah, what an author can get away with when they use magic to get characters from A to B. I think the ending relied too much on explaining what should have unfurled previously in the book.
Escobar states in the blurb that, ‘It’s a very different World War II.’ Which it is, and I wondered at times why the author chose WW2 as a backdrop to this occult fantasy themed story. As it progressed and the WW2 references died away, it could have been a stand-alone urban fantasy novel. Perhaps more will become clear in the next book. I did enjoy this novel, but the over use of the same magical references and plethora of adjectives to move the narrative along, could have been edited out.
Vision Verdict: 6 out of 10 TRB Stars
It is a long book and would have benefited from losing some of the similar perilous situations, to concentrate more on the actual storyline. However it is a fast paced action adventure, with great descriptions that would satisfy all those who enjoy fantasy, occult and thriller type books – with some geographical and historical references thrown in. A good read on the whole and I would recommend it anyone who likes action, magic, history, and a bit of time travel.
Finally to give her two cents, The Unleashed One:
Hello, the Unleashed One here. Before I dive into The Tower’s Alchemist, I’d like to digress slightly and offer a confession. I do like the combination of action and mystery, especially if the proponent of skill is a female character. Every thing has to have a certain amount of balance and timing, whether in an actual movie (where you can see the people and how it is played out) or in a book (where the action has to be conveyed convincingly enough to have one follow the story).
The description of this book (this whole series, in fact) was touted like a combination of Call of Duty World at War (the honing in of some of the fight sequences with the vampires very similar to what would happen if one was surrounded by Nazi zombies) and Mission Impossible (with the whole spy angle). I am thinking to myself that this is quite a lot for a series to live up to, yet if it is carried out, it marks the difference between placing this author on the map and her work being chalked up to a bastardized attempt at mimicking a formula other authors have done before her.
So how well did Alesha Escobar do with this first writing in the trilogy?
Time to proceed.
Wizard Extraordinaire (Code Name: Pros)
The Spell of Abstract: Successfully cast
I really like the abstract look of the cover. For me, it adds to the mystery component.
The Aura of Originality: Lingers in the air
I will give lots of points for the attempt to put out something “out of the box”. Spies, wizards, World War II—so many different elements in one story. It does take a lot of gumption to try and have all of that within one work. That is worthy of some finger snaps.
The Life Force of Substance: Sprinkles here and there
There are a few characters that I really liked. Renee really stood out. I admired her wisdom and her quiet spirit. Ken was a character that really caught my attention along with the intriguing make up of Father Gabriel. The support and tenacity of Otto also warmed my heart and made me smile whenever he was mentioned.
Magnificent Disenchantment (Code Name: Cons)
The Pendant of People Placement Used Erroneously (Code Name: Too many characters, not enough soul)
You ever get invited to a function and there are one hundred people in a room. Those people come up and introduce themselves. At the end of the event, you are quizzed on how many of those people you know as well as their job title. How well do you think you would do?
In The Tower’s Alchemist, new individuals were introduced in practically every chapter. Sometimes, up to five new people. All before we even get to the main ingredient in the recipe, as they say. Not only are they placed in the chapters, but it’s done in a way that’s a bit nonchalant and we don’t know what purpose the person serves until much later, if not at all.
Maybe it was to keep the whole element of suspense going but there is a way of bringing new people in without it feeling overwhelming. From a reader’s perspective, there are way too many characters thrown into the mix. I even had to take out a pen and paper and jot down all the ones being mentioned, so when the person gets talked about a few (or many) chapters later, I could still remember what name fit with what function.
The Epic Emblem of Misplaced and Extraneous Back Story (Code Name: Narrative Heavy)
The first four chapters of The Tower’s Alchemist was action, action, action with no clear indicators of the cause. Once Chapter Five arrived, the author slowed down the pace and began to drop in more narrative. However, those eye drops felt more like cement bricks, and even worse, they were placed in strange spots. It’s like an eye drop landing on top of one’s eyelid or on the corners of the eyes, but not at the very source where it is needed.
Certain elements that were placed on one chapter were better suited to go along with the action that related to the back story in another chapter. Then, other portions, like Isabella debating the difficulties of having a love life in her profession didn’t seem to run parallel to an experience that would have her asking these questions, yet the moment this epiphany would have been credible (the showdown scene with her and Ken) it didn’t reappear until much later and marked a missed opportunity for a more believable segment. The story would have been aided more with not only less back story but properly placed back story among all the action. Instead, the way the author used this instrument, it provided sour notes to a smooth melody.
The Ring of Not Quite Right Dialogue (Code Name: Spoken inaccuracies)
The Tower’s Alchemist is supposed to be set during the time of World War II. The thing which threw me off was that some of the dialogue didn’t quite fit the setting. Whether this a true detriment actually depends on the reader. For those who don’t weigh in heavily on dialogue matching history, this obvious glitch may not even register. For those who thinks that dialogue matching the proper times makes a story even better, this will stick out like a swollen thumb.
The Necklace of Not Credible (Code Note: Don’t Buy The Hype)
Let me see if I can type this segment while keeping a straight face. I want to have a bit of girl talk with Isabella.
“Miss Isabella/Emilie/Noelle/Angela, I don’t know who blew up your head and told you that you were a spectacular spy. The person who did that is really not your friend. You could be a fantastic alchemist. You have some skills on you. As for your spy mannerisms, your retirement as a spy should have been, like, yesterday.”
Isabella being an effective spy is NOT believable at all. What type of spy reacts to the bad guys calling her by her non-spy name? Don’t they give classes on maintaining your poker face and not blowing your cover? Yet on more than one occasion, and through one-on-one dialogue at that, the moment someone she thought she could trust says her actual name, it’s like all of that goes out the window and she is like, “How do you know about me? How do you know my real name?”
Speaking of trusting, Isabella is way too trusting in situations where her guard should be made of platinum and sprinkled with the Circle of Protection, emitting the Fumes of Detecting Bullshit. Yet, multiple times she gets herself in jams where she should know better, or where other people have to come in at just the right moments to save the day. I’m not saying Isabella can’t make mistakes but you would think she would learn after the first couple of times to put up a more effective guard, and even more so, rather than go into an operation all rogue (putting my red lipstick on, like Funky Dineva), you employ back up in case somebody goes flip mode.
Speaking of red lipstick, let’s also discuss spy fashion. True, wigs weren’t as advanced then as they are now, but (1) Why is Isabella’s wig so flimsy that she has to constantly wonder about it staying on her head? and (2) Why does a super spy only have one wig? If I knew I had to adopt different names, I think that would warrant, at the least, a different type of wig, and at the most, different lengths and colors of wigs. Hair dye did exist back in those days; why couldn’t that be used, and what did Isabella have against a hair cut? I have seen spies on TV even shave their hair off to go undercover. Am I missing something? It’s just crazy how each and every time, somebody was always able to detect who she was, even in disguise. A leaky faucet in the organization is one thing, having an easily discernible disguise is another thing altogether.
“Isabella, keep your day job as an alchemist. You need to report back to Super Spy Class 101 immediately. Or better yet, just withdraw altogether. You are making it look like any Joe Blow or Mary Sue Bob on the street can be a spy, and that is an insult to all the ones that are doing the profession stylishly well. No spell you can weave on my brain is going to make me think any differently.”
The Lace Garter of Long Chapters (Code Name: Balanced Length of Chapter Fail)
In The Tower’s Alchemist, the length of the chapters were all over the place. A few were about ten to fifteen pages while a few were closer to thirty pages. Chapters 13, 16, 17, and 21 really stood out because the action in the chapters, rather than utilizing scene separations, should have just been another chapter instead.
The Anklet of Aversion (Code Name: Not a Fan)
Yes, I have to circle back to Isabella. In addition to her spy swag being less than mediocre (aka atrocious), I’m not a fan of her overall disposition. She is so quick to judge other’s decisions and motives but fails to look at some of her own actions that mimics those others.
Each time she does it as a bit of hindsight but sadly Isabella doesn’t grow as a character. Isabella stays stuck in this rut and it makes her come off as pretentious and insensitive. The catalyst that really set off my full disdain of her was the treatment of Lucien when he lost his father. Since she had gone through a similar loss in a similar fashion, I expected a bit more understanding towards him but instead she’s more preoccupied with the success of her mission than tending to Lucien’s broken spirit. Yet if the tables were turned, she would be the same person acting wounded because no one even stopped to give proper respect to said loss. Perhaps Isabella will gain more likability as the series continues but as it stands right now, I don’t find myself caring about what happens to her.
The Earrings of Competing Themes (Code Name: Dynamic Themes Fail)
Through this entire story, the spy angle and the element angle seemed more in competition that flattering each other. Part of it is how the alchemist information was placed in this work.
It reminds me of watching the catalyst of a TV program, and then a commercial is placed in—a word from your sponsor, if you will. This is a shame because the usage of the magic is what I found the most enjoyable. I could have easily done without the added layer of Isabella being a spy because I wanted to experience what she could do with her magic. The information involving the different stones and symbols could have been better served as a glossary at the beginning of the book as opposed to the lackluster interlink attempts in the gargantuan blocks of narrative.
Unleashed Verdict: 4 out of 10 Stars
Despite the ambitious aim of this work, The Tower’s Alchemist does too much in its goal to be out of the box. Too many characters, lack of a tidied resolution, major fail of Isabella as a credible and engaging main character, and the disproportion of narration, conflict, information, and historically accurate dialogue really hurt the star power of this undertaking. I can’t say that I can recommend at this point; however, I will continue on with the series before I truly render my full assessment.
Now let’s add all of the scores and divide by the number of reviewers:
Overall, The Tower’s Alchemist gets 5 out of 10 Stars from The Review Board.
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