The Scarlet Alchemist Review: A Compelling, but Rushed, New Fantasy

The Scarlet Alchemist Cover Cropped

The Scarlet Alchemist, by Kylie Lee Baker, introduces us to Zilan, a young woman who dreams of becoming a royal alchemist. In her small town, she’s known for her ability to resurrect the dead, a rare kind of alchemy. One day, a stranger comes to her town, asking her to leave for the capital, Chang’an, with him for he fears he’s about to be murdered.

Zilan refuses, not wanting to jeopardize her chance at taking the trials to become a royal alchemist, telling the stranger she’ll be in the capital in a couple of weeks once she passes the trials.

And in fact, that’s exactly what happens. She runs into him during the trials, where she learns this stranger is none other than the Crown Prince, and the person he believes is trying to kill him is his mother, the Empress.

The Scarlet Alchemist Cover

The Scarlet Alchemist is an extremely fast-paced novel, especially once the trials begin. The plot could’ve been spread out over multiple books. Book one could’ve ended with Zilan becoming a royal alchemist, and then the training and plot to kill the Empress could’ve happened in book two.

At times, the speed at which the book moves works well. It’s addicting. You’re excited to keep reading to see what happens next, and you don’t have to wait long for another twist or exciting development.

However, in the end, this quality ends up a detriment to the story.

If the narrative was spread out a bit more, the characters, outside of Zilan, could’ve been more properly developed, allowing us to grow attached to them. The other alchemists, for instance, are not fully developed. It’s hard to provide any distinguishing characteristics of them, which is a shame because there’s potential for some mentor relationships and friendships to be forged.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough time in the narrative to accomplish this.

There’s a lot of death in this book, and yet none of the deaths have any real impact. There’s no overwhelming sense of sadness due to your connections with any of the characters or even on behalf of Zilan and her relationships with them.

Instead, it’s just shocking that so many people are killed off. Shock isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but had there been time spent developing the characters and their relationships, the impact could’ve been greater.

There’s one character that The Scarlet Alchemist does spend a decent amount of time on, the Crown Prince, but he still doesn’t quite feel like a real person.

Part of this could be because we see him through Zilan’s point of view, and she’s often skeptical of his true intentions and behavior. The Crown Prince is childish, despite all his gold eating, and devoid of any personality.

The relationship between him and Zilan is fine for the drama it provides, but it’s hard to be invested when Zilan is such a wonderful, dynamic character, and the Crown Prince is just there.

Despite its flaws, The Scarlet Alchemist is an enjoyable read led by a protagonist who will captive you from the very first scene. The book manages to keep you guessing, and you’ll be surprised by the many different twists and turns the book takes, especially in those final chapters.

Stray Thoughts
  • I enjoy learning about how alchemy works in this world.
  • The resurrection twist happens twice and yet is shocking both times. It’s done well and catapults the story to a new height each time.
  • Baker does a great job of demonstrating how the Empress is a formidable opponent.
  • The trials show off the various uses of alchemy and allow us to get to know more about Zilan through her determination.
  • Interestingly, Zilan isn’t involved in the start of the final “battle” of the book; she’s off on her side mission to find the Emperor while the other alchemists kick it off.

The Scarlet Alchemist by Kylie Lee Baker is available now.

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Allison is in a love affair with books and television that doesn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. Slightly damaged fictional characters are her weakness. She loves to spend her free time curled up with a cat and a book to read or a show to watch. Allison is a Tomatometer-approved critic (Rotten Tomatoes).

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