I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
“‘Here I am, God,’ she prayed. But what am I here for?” (Denny 20).
In 2019 Peri Fuller is just about to start school at Harvard University when she finds a hairpin with a strange symbol engraved on it on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard. In Morocco, Ayoub, a young boy, steals a 17th-century book engraved with the same symbol as he’s employed to do by an Islamic terrorist organization. When a storm hits, both Peri and Ayoub find themselves flung back in time with puritans and pirates respectively as they adjust to their new timelines, and wonder about the future they’ve left behind.
It’s clear that Denny enjoyed writing this, that a lot of research and heart went into The Alchemy Thief. From the amount of description and the glossary at the end this is a subject Denny is incredibly passionate about and I love that she is writing about a subject that she loves. Denny cares these characters and this story she’s created and because of that I think the book has a lot of potential, but so much of this felt like a first draft. A lot of phrases and facts are repeated throughout which was irritating to have to read over and over again, one that could have easily been remedied with a good editor. One example of repetition is how many times it’s mentioned that Hannah Mayhew is Peri’s many greats-grandmother:
- “Hannah Mayhew was the name of Peri’s great grandmother on the Vineyard, numerous generations back,” (Denny 106)
- “This young woman was her great-grandmother 12 generations back,” (Denny 120)
- “Peri felt closest to Hannah, who in reality was not her sister but her 12th great-great-grandmother,” (Denny 135)
- “she hugged her friend Hannah, who also happened to be her grandmother many greats back in time,” (Denny 227).
- And another in the glossary which is interesting but I don’t know if it’s a typo or not, “[Hannah Mayhew] is the author’s great grandmother many generations back” (Denny 369).
If the last example isn’t a typo and Denny is related to the Mayhew’s then it further explains her immense passion for what she is writing about, but the repetition of Hannah Mayhew is only one of many examples of repetition in the book that wasn’t fixed and very easily could have been.
Let’s move onto characters, many of whom were flat and underdeveloped. Our heroine Peri (short for Experience…yeah) is annoyingly naïve with a number of inconsistencies to her character, one being that she is said to have a photographic memory that “had helped her get into Harvard, but it was a blessing and a curse when it came to some things. She had a rough time shaking visual scenes from her memory” (Denny 24) and later explains that her photographic memory only works when she “really [focuses] on something to lock it into [her] mind” (Denny 38). Peri is also described as being very passionate about history, yet when she travels back in time she can’t name or remember a significant historical date to literally save her life, not to mention the fact that the two quoted passages above are the only reference to Peri’s supposed photographic memory. Ayoub is almost comically written as the big bad villain, having been raised by an Islamic Terrorist group all he thinks about is killing off the infidels and bringing weapons from modern times to the 17th century. Liam is a flatly written privileged villain, and Daniel is a young Wampanoag man with “rippling abs” (Denny 125) and “rippling muscles” (Denny 177) and, while more developed than many of the other characters, I had trouble with the sexualization of him and how his history and culture were treated.
There’s a strangely specific focus on religion throughout the book. This could have been interesting had these different religious beliefs been used to compare characters with one another or perhaps had Peri and Ayoub go on personal journey’s with their respective faiths. Christianity and Islam are both Abrahamic religions and rooted in the same beliefs, but The Alchemy Thief makes it clear that there is a right faith to believe in. I had an especially hard time with the religious talk in concern with Daniel who is Wampanoag. While Denny explains that Daniel is based off “the son of Myoxeo [who] was raised in the home of Reverend Thomas Mayhew, Jr. after the conversion of Myoxeo, and preached among the Wampanoag on the island” (Denny 368) who did convert to Christianity, this was all treated as a great display of faith. Faith is a deeply personal thing, and people are always free to convert or leave religious faiths, but the fact that no discussion of colonialism or the issues with this from Peri who is from the modern times was troubling. Peri even goes on to say later in the book that “Daniel had learned to adapt when the white settlers arrived on his island home” (Denny 353) which is such a simplification of what occurred to Indigenous people that it angered me. The fact too that Peri had no issues with Daniel converting but thought it was horrific for Ayoub and his crew to ask the Puritans to convert to Islam was just weird. Maybe it’s because one was seen as a choice while the other was forced, but to ignore the aspect of colonialism in regards to Indigenous peoples conversion to Christianity is troubling.
And as many other reviewers has said, The Alchemy Thief simply ends without warning. One moment I’m reading a chapter, get to some asterisks, and then “Thank you for reading” with no warning! I understand that this is a series but a proper ending was still needed.
The Alchemy Thief has aspects of Outlander for a younger crowd and there’s a lot of potential here for a really engaging story. Denny is clearly passionate about her characters and the story she’s creating and has put a lot of research into this story which is wonderful to see, despite my low rating this is not a horrible book. I was curious about the story and what was going to happen next, but the many repetitions and flat characters made this a book I couldn’t get fully into. With the right editor and a little more polish this could be something great.
Publication: July 16th 2021
Pages: 374 pages (PDF)
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Christian
My Rating: ⛤⛤
When the secrets of the past threaten to destroy the future.
A tale of hope, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of a woman, this sweeping epic spans the Atlantic from New England to Morocco during the Age of Exploration.
2019: A young woman finds a relic engraved with a mysterious symbol off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Terrorists in Morocco steal a 17th-century book engraved with the same symbol. As the woman struggles to unravel the secrets behind the symbol, her life changes in ways she could never have imagined.
1657: Transported back in time, she meets the alchemist, John Winthrop, Jr. who is plotting to lure the greatest scientific minds to the New World. But the more she learns, the more she fears for the lives of the loved ones she left behind.
In a stunning twist of fate, a modern terrorist has traveled into the past, where he has become a Barbary Corsair. He has plans of his own. And he will stop at nothing to succeed.
One thought on “Book Review: The Alchemy Thief by R.A. Denny”
Thank you for your honest review! I am a direct descendant of Hannah Mayhew Daggett who was known as the “deputy governor” of Martha’s Vineyard.