Out Now from Inkyard Press; 424 pages
Content Warning: Death, violence, murder, blood, gore, racism, sexism, classism, animal death, death of a parent, forced public undressing (down to underwear)
About the Author: “Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her work is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, & Irish) as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a BA in creative writing and Spanish from Emory University and is pursuing a master of library and information science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she plays the cello, watches horror movies, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel” (Bio from author’s website).
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Zarin dreams of becoming a royal alchemist and being rich enough to support her struggling family in Guangzhou, China by creating life gold—an alchemical substance that keeps the body young forever—for the royal family. In order to provide for her aunt and uncle, she performs secret, forbidden alchemy to bring the dead back to life with the help of her cousins, Wenshu and Yufei. Together, the cousins must travel to the capital and take the royal exams that would grant them access to a more prestigious life, fighting against harsh discrimination to make their dreams come true. But when the young prince Li Hong enters Zarin’s life and asks for help, she will have to learn to navigate the dangerous world of the royal court while keeping the people she cares for safe and taking a stand against injustice.
The Scarlet Alchemist was an incredibly fun read. There were many times where the sibling banter or the romantic squabbles made me chuckle. Zarin is a strong female character who is willing to get her hands dirty in order to provide for the people she cares about. She holds her head up high, speaks her mind, and sometimes makes brash decisions that make me wince, but I love her character and her commitment. Zi Long, the crown prince, is her male counterpart. He is often portrayed as soft, kind, caring no matter the class, and a tad bit naive. It was nice to see a male character that wasn’t afraid to show emotion, but what made me the most giddy was seeing how Zarin softened up to him. Zarin struggled with discrimination based on her mixed race, sex, and lower-class status during her exams and around the royal court, but she was able to overcome them, pointing to an excellent message in recognizing and catering to your own self worth despite the prejudices of those around you. Zarin is half Chinese and half Scotian in 8th-century China, a setting which was very restrictive when it came to women’s rights and the acceptance of foreigners. The story itself was full of twists and turns but in a way that made sense and kept me hooked. I loved delving into the land of China and getting to know a little bit of the culture that surrounded the time period. This book exemplified the idea of battling society and coming out on top, and I absolutely adored it.
Charity Kinsella, Pine Reads Review Editor