#SPFBO9 Semi-Finalist Review: Trial of the Alchemist by Trevor Melanson

trial of the alchemist

White filigree on charcoal background with title, Trial of the Alchemist, written above a cityscape enclosed in a corked bottle




Trevor Melanson


Collaborative Review by Whitney Reinhart and John Mauro

“I peered into distances unseen, wondering if decisions are ever truly made, or if I was but a number on a clock, existing between a wound-up past and a future into which I could only predictably tick.”

Initial Thoughts:

Whitney:  Melanson’s Trial of the Alchemist, to put it plainly and simply, is a beautifully written tale of memory and murder. In what feels like a dreamy half-homage to Inception (the Leonardo di Caprio film), readers are invited into the memories of Alchemist Ortez as he relays the events which led to the murder of industrial titan, Everett Day. Ortez is accused and his memories are the only things which can exonerate him.

John: Trevor Melanson’s background in journalism shines throughout Trial of the Alchemist. Melanson’s straightforward writing style is the perfect vehicle for unraveling this complex murder mystery which is full of political intrigue and unexpected plot twists. He impressively blends fantasy and mystery genres in The Trial of the Alchemist, delivering a story that will keep readers glued to the pages until the final twist is revealed.

 “Alas, memories are not the transcripts of our past we imagine them to be. Most life is lived in the in-between, in those long, forgotten stretches walking to work or tossing and turning in bed…Memories are the moments that make us who we are.”

Storytelling Commentary:

Whitney: Alchemist Ortez is a psycho-alchemist who, through a combination of elixirs and mnemonic technology, helps people understand the truths behind what their minds are telling them. Psycho-alchemists tap into the minds of their clients in order to help uncover inexplicable melancholies, the seeds of recurring nightmares, behavioral tics, and the like. As such, Ortez is surprised and curious when he receives a letter from Mr. Everett Day, requesting his assistance with a “situation” which has arisen at The Day Company. Mr. Day offers a generous consulting fee, all expenses paid, and a train ticket on the Daybreak Express to the shining mountain city of Aurora, beacon of prosperity and home of Mr. Day’s sprawling enterprise.

With some little deviations throughout, this story is told almost entirely from a first-person POV and evolves in the same wandering manner that comes from personal recollections. Melanson balances these natural asides and effective plot progression perfectly. Alchemist Ortez is complex and guarded while still being as honest as the court expects. He is deliciously flawed but earnest in his intentions. His honesty throughout the trial is confirmed through the monitoring of a legal alchemist. With elixirs and mnemomic conduits similar to the ones Ortez uses in his own practice, Legal Alchemist Freya is privy to his memories as he recalls and regurgitates them. Attempts at subterfuge will not succeed; not when someone else shares your mind.

Without coughing up spoilers, Alchemist Ortez recounts events as he remembers them for the entire month prior to Mr. Day’s sudden death. He explains the pretenses for his summons to Aurora, the truth behind his invitation, his determination to help innocent victims of progress. He illuminates the complicated relationships between Everett Day and the citizens of Aurora, nearly all of whom work for The Day Company mining and refining cobrium, the fuel which propels trains and automobiles alike and illuminates the city’s streets. Ortez shares the connections he’s made with individuals in the city who are simultaneously reliant on, independent of, resentful of, and apathetic to the influence of Mr. Day on their daily lives. Aurora’s mayor, Leesa Maynor, appreciates the benefits The Day Company provides to her city but worries about the safety of its employees. Mayor Maynor and Everett Day are at loggerheads and Ortez makes a discovery which will rattle them both. 

John: Trial of the Alchemist is Trevor Melanson’s murder mystery set in a gaslamp fantasy world steeped in alchemy. The novel opens in a packed courtroom, with Alchemist Ortez on trial for murder. Ortez is accused of poisoning Everett Day, the greatest mind and most successful entrepreneur in the mining town of Aurora. Also, a generous and beloved philanthropist, Everett Day strikes me as a fantasy version of Andrew Carnegie.

“Even a savored memory hurts when you have no space for it.” 

Trial of the Alchemist alternates between third-person narration of the present-day trial and Alchemist Ortez’s first-person account of the events leading up to Everett Day’s untimely demise. Ortez recounts how he was initially called to Aurora to investigate a serious accident during the mining of cobrium, the key ore enabling Aurora’s recent advances in electricity and other modern technology.

The magical elements of Trial of the Alchemist are alchemical in nature. There are three kinds of alchemists presented in the book: psycho-alchemists such as Ortez, legal alchemists who assist with the integrity of the justice system, and research alchemists working toward the next alchemical discovery. During the trial, Ortez is forced to take an elixir that allows Alchemist Freya, a legal alchemist, to access Ortez’s mind in a lucid dreamlike state to ensure the veracity of his account.

Concluding Thoughts:

Whitney: I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the conclusion of the trial is as surprising as it is satisfying. This book is well worth the read and should find an appreciative audience with lovers of steampunk/gaslamp fantasy.

John: The ending was a complete surprise for me and very well done by the author. We are very happy to name Trial of the Alchemist as a semi-finalist in SPFBO9!

Purchase Your Copy Here 

Trial of the Alchemist

Trial of the Alchemist

Trial of the Alchemist

Trial of the Alchemist

Trial of the Alchemist

Trial of the Alchemist

Trial of the Alchemist

Trial of the Alchemist

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