cover image The Scarlet Alchemist

The Scarlet Alchemist

Kylie Lee Baker. Inkyard, $19.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-335-45801-8

Though the practice is punishable by death, 17-year-old Fan Zilan supplements her family’s meager income by resurrecting the dead through life alchemy. As a hùnxieˇ—a half Hàn Chinese, “half foreigner”—whose mother died and father disappeared, she lives with her sickly aunt and uncle as well as two cousins, Yufei and Wenshu, in the small southern town of Guangzhou. Bold Yufei and ever-cautious Wenshu are studying to take the civil service exams, which, if passed, will help them cultivate more comfortable lives; Zilan, meanwhile, is competing with other gifted youth to become a royal court alchemist, like the famed ones who developed a gold immortality elixir that halts aging once consumed. After passing the first exam, the three make their way to the city of Chang’an for the second, where Zilan finds herself embroiled in a royal conspiracy with an Empress who’s determined to rid her court of any threats to her crown. In this deeply immersive historical fantasy, a grisly duology opener, Baker (The Empress of Time) expertly navigates the societal constraints and pains of marginalization via visceral prose. A developing romance between Zilan and the Crown Prince offers lighthearted joy amid the narrative’s ruthless and gruesome happenings. A historical note concludes. Ages 14–up. Agent: Mary C. Moore, Kimberley Cameron & Associates. (Oct.)