The Scarlet Alchemist

Inkyard. Oct. 2023. 432p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781335458018.
Gr 9 Up–Baker once again plays with life and death, launching a new alternate Chinese history series for fans of Judy I. Lin’s A Magic Steeped in Poison and Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow. Seventeen-year-old Zilan, who is biracial, white and Chinese, must head to the capital for the highly competitive civil service exams to become an imperial alchemist so that she can take care of her impoverished family and spite the father who abandoned her—but her illegal use of life alchemy to perform resurrections has drawn the attention of the crown prince who wants to hire her. As Zilan undergoes the grueling alchemy tests, she is drawn deeper into the rich and deadly politics of court as everyone seeks the power of immortality. In a genre packed full of competition-based plots, Baker’s stands unique in its multifaceted worldbuilding and no-holds-barred gore, where the consequences of characters’ choices are more than looming threats as the Empress strives to purge the royal court of perceived enemies. The historical detail and fantasy elements fuse to create a lush atmosphere while pushing the stakes increasingly higher. Zilan’s deeply flawed character remains sympathetic despite her temper and mistakes, cultivating a strong character arc that fuels the reluctant allies-to-lovers romance. Fans of The Untamed will feel this novel was written especially for them. The main cast is Chinese.
VERDICT A ruthless and standout series opener to a dark, adrenaline-fueled duology. Highly recommended for all collections.

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