The Alchemy Thief by R.A. Denny

Book review graphic with bookshelves in the background.

The first in the Pirates and Puritans series, The Alchemy Thief has an ambitious, intricately woven plot that spans centuries and continents.

Experience “Peri” Fuller is about to start her studies at Harvard when she discovers an ancient hairpin in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. She becomes intrigued by the symbol on the artifact, which believes she has seen before during a post-graduation trip with her best friend.

Shortly after embarking on a new relationship, starting college, and beginning an internship, Peri is suddenly and dramatically transported to 1657, where she meets among others an alchemist John Winthrop, Jr., and Daniel, a Wampanoag man who lived with Reverend Thomas Mayhew, Jr. as a boy.

This historical fiction tale has a lot of components I enjoy in a book: a leading woman character who grows during the course of the story, the use of time travel as a major component of the plot, and references to an interesting time period in early American history.

Denny also throws in hypnosis, alchemy, pirates, and terrorists – elements that are both interesting and overwhelming at times.

The Alchemy Thief was told mostly from Peri’s perspective but interspersed a good number of chapters from the viewpoint of Ayoub, a young thief raised to be a terrorist. I connected more with Peri. I found myself engrossed in her story, particularly after she is transported in time, while I dreaded getting to Ayoub’s chapters because of their disturbing descriptions of violent and horrific acts.

There is a fair amount of attention given to religion in this book, which makes sense given it is a story that focuses heavily on 17th-century Puritans and includes references to Islamic extremism. While I could see that some of the ways the author presented the Christian and Muslim faiths were to be true to the time period, there seemed to be a hint of bias against the Muslim faith which made me uncomfortable.

I was also caught off guard that the book, which is nearly 500 pages long, stopped so abruptly, leaving me wanting desperately to find out what happens to Peri, her family, and the friends she makes in the 17th century. I understand ending on a cliffhanger to build interest in the next book in the series, but after investing so much time in the characters, I felt readers deserved a little more closure.

To the author’s credit, it is clear she cares about history, has a fantastic imagination, and that she did an amazing amount of research to write this book. I enjoyed the Author’s Note at the end which provided insight into which characters were real historical figures.

Thank you to R.A. Denny for providing me with a free e-review copy of The Alchemy Thief. The views expressed in this review reflect my honest opinion.

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