by Cynthia Chow
This week we are reviewing the latest Accidental Alchemist mystery by Gigi Pandian, The Elusive Elixir. We also have a fun behind the scenes guest post by Gigi. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of The Elusive Elixir. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
The Elusive Elixir: An Accidental Alchemist Mystery by Gigi Pandian
Review by Cynthia Chow
Long life is not always a gift, as accidental alchemist Zoe Faust has learned over the last 300 years. Ever since she discovered the Elixir of Life in 1704, Zoe has feared not only the discovery of her secret but of making personal connections to those she would inevitably outlive. That has recently changed, due in no small part to the friendship with a living gargoyle, bibliophile, and chef extraordinaire Dorian Robert-Houdin. Now that he is slowly reverting back into a stone state, Zoe is desperate and on a mission to France’s Notre Dame to hopefully find another clue to stopping the transformation. Her plan is cut short when not only is she recognized by a woman who saw her back in 1942, the identity she held is being accused of setting a fire to cover the murder of her assistant.
Zoe flees back to Portland, where she feels far more welcome amongst its slow food, farm-to-table, vegan hipsters. It is there where she practices her plant alchemy, using herbs and botanicals grown in her garden to heal those in need. It’s also where she has hidden the “Non Degenera Alchemia,” a book of backward alchemy that is a corruption and antithesis of the alchemy that brings life and purity. It’s a tome much sought after by those wishing to take a shortcut to the extension of life, and it brings to Zoe’s doorstep someone she never trusted and long thought was dead. Alchemists have a long tradition of keeping secrets and trusting no one, and with multiple threats descending upon her and those she loves Zoe is going to have to change that behavior. Choosing to have faith in the wrong person though, could only lead to more death.
While this third in the Accidental Alchemist Mystery series can be read on its own, it’s those who have followed along and embraced all of its mythology who will truly relish the novel. Zoe is a selfless healer who maintains a core of sadness from having lost those she loved, which explains why she is so hesitant to embrace her affection for detective Max Liu. His evolving mindset towards magic and the intangible only increases her reluctance to revealing the truth about her age and alchemy itself. Stoic Dorian continues to add a charming mix of humor and mischief, and his loyalty towards Zoe is undeniable. That author Pandian unfolds a complicated and logical explanation of alchemy is a stellar achievement in itself, so the multiple mysteries of past and present are a delightful bonus. This continues to be a saga that unravels naturally and steadily, and the next installment of these wonderful characters cannot come soon enough.
The Story Behind The Elusive Elixir, the new Accidental Alchemist Mystery
by Gigi Pandian
In my Accidental Alchemist mysteries, Zoe Faust is an herbalist and alchemist who accidentally discovered the Elixir of Life three centuries ago. She’s tired of running from her past and buys a crumbling house in Portland, Oregon. But her presence hasn’t escaped notice. She’s sought out by Dorian Robert-Houdin, a three-and-a-half-foot tall gargoyle chef who fancies himself a modern-day Poirot—and he’s always getting into trouble. Dorian was once a stone gargoyle in France before he was accidentally brought to life through alchemy, but now he’s slowly turning back to stone.
I’m often asked where on earth I came up with such an idea. The straightforward answer is that I received a diagnosis of aggressive cancer right after my 36th birthday, so ideas of alchemy’s Elixir of Life were swirling around my mind while I went through chemotherapy and a full year of cancer treatments.
But that’s not the whole answer.
Delving deeper into what exactly I mean by “ideas swirling around my mind,” I thought I’d share what those ideas really looked like. Though I’m a novelist, I’m a visual thinker. I realized this most clearly when I left a PhD program in favor of art school; everything in my life fell into place at that moment when I gave myself permission to have a fulfilling creative life. It now makes sense to me that when I think back on stories I love, I often can’t remember if I read the story as a book or saw it on the screen, because when I’m immersed in reading—or writing—a book, I see it that clearly.
The Elusive Elixir is set in both Paris and Portland, so here are some of my photographs from both cities that inspired the book.
These two photos show the famous “Thinker” gargoyle of Notre Dame in Paris, who inspired Dorian the gargoyle. The gargoyles themselves are magnificent, intricately carved creatures, but their placement high atop Notre Dame is what makes them truly evoke wonder. When researching the The Accidental Alchemist, I learned the gargoyles weren’t part of the original cathedral, but were added in the mid 1800s.
The old and new blend together seamlessly in Paris. I love taking snapshots because scenes like these are so mysterious. Looking at my old photos always inspires me to write more detailed scenes, and often point me in new directions.
Turning to Portland, Oregon, a walk through this beautiful cemetery inspired a subplot of the series.
This “Keep Portland Weird” sign sums up the reason I knew Portland was the perfect place alchemist Zoe to hide in plain sight. In this photo, you’ll see my own stuffed animal gargoyle, Dori (not to be confused with the much larger, and less fluffy, gargoyle Dorian in the books).
To enter to win a copy of The Elusive Elixir, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “elixir,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 21, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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