21 November 2014

Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

Hey everyone,


A slightly later than usual post as I’ve been working since 9 in the morning and have only just found the time to sit down and write. This week I want to talk about Gunpowder Alchemy a steampunk romance novel set in China. I mean if that doesn’t make you a teeny tiny bit intrigued I don’t know what will. I certainly was and pre-ordered Jeannie Lin’s novel despite never having read anything by her before. Also the cover is simply beautiful!

The book:


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…

My thoughts:

I think my favourite aspect of Gunpowder Alchemy was the setting of historical China and the amazingly rich detail the author included. Although I have visited Asia and even have friends in China I am shamefully ignorant of the culture, history and customs but after reading this book I feel I might know just a tiny slither. Before I get carried away on the history and culture of China I feel it is important to state that this is Steampunk and although clearly based on well-researched history of the Opium Wars Jeannie Lin admits that she has fictionalised certain elements, a big one being the technology present in the book.


For the majority of the novel we follow the adventures of Soling as she struggles to adapt, survive and at times even recognise a rapidly changing China due to the invasion of the British Empire. This book portrays China in conflict from both internal and external threats and caught in the middle of it is Soling and her family who once held a prominent position in Peking society but now live in a rural village.

‘The pungent floral notes were unmistakable. Our village wasn’t large enough to have a grain store, yet we had an opium den.

Opium is one of the biggest threats to China during the period both historically and in the book. It affects Soling’s family on a personal level due to her mother’s addiction to the drug. This book depicts China in crisis were wrong one decision can lead to your downfall. The people are scared and the government has been rendered almost useless due to the foreign invaders. I honestly found the history fascinating and thought the author did a fantastic job of blending history and steampunk fantasy together. It is an alternative history of China during this period but it is believable due to the richness of the description and the level of detail included by the author. I will be honest, however, although I thoroughly enjoyed this book I feel like the romance was pushed into the background for the majority of the book. Soling and Chang-Wei were once betrothed but had never met so to say their reunion is awkward is perhaps an understatement. They have a history but as Soling is clear to repeat absolutely no future. Whereas Soling and her family have fallen into disgrace Chang-Wei has managed to maintain a place within the Emperor’s inner circle.

‘Despite all that had happened, Chang-Wei was a gentleman at heart, and I had been unsuitable for marriage long before meeting him’.

I found Chang-Wei to be a very interesting character. He was very self-assured in the context of his role and duty to China, almost to the point of blind faith, and yet at the same time he clearly placed Soling above this duty. He went out of his way to protect her from rebels, the British and even the Emperor himself. Yet he was an extremely reserved character who never talked about his emotions but instead dealt in facts, typical of a scientist (I should know I dated one). In contrast Soling does harbour resentment, she’s the more emotional of the two but shy and nervous in romantic situations. This isn’t a passionate love affair, however, I don’t think that would have worked in the context of the novel or for the type of characters the author has created.

This book does end with threads still unresolved and I couldn’t say it had a HFN as neither Chang-Wei or Soling have told each other how they feel, we the reader don’t even know how Chang-Wei feels. I would still highly recommend this book for the beautiful writing and the world-building, however, Gunpowder Alchemy although a romance is not a book that focuses solely on the hero and heroine. Perhaps the relationship between them will be more thoroughly developed in the following novel or novels, which I will definitely be reading.

My rating:
Happy reading and see you next time!