Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Alchemy of Forever, Avery Williams

Title: The Alchemy of Forever
Author: Avery Williams (author website)
Release Date: April 26th 2012 by Simon & Schuster
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Paranormal
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star

Beautifully written, Avery Williams’ debut, The Alchemy of Forever is a sad tale, quiet in tone, and simply told in a way that lends it a painful poignancy. It’s a story of hope, redemption, loss and the weight and cost of forever.

From Goodreads:
After spending six hundred years on Earth, Seraphina Ames has seen it all. Eternal life provides her with the world's riches but at a very high price: innocent lives. Centuries ago, her boyfriend, Cyrus, discovered a method of alchemy that allows them to take the bodies of other humans from jumping from one vessel to the next, ending the human's life in the process. No longer able to bear the guilt of what she's done, Sera escapes from Cyrus and vows to never kill again.

Then sixteen-year old Kailey Morgan gets into a horrific car accident right in front of her, and Sera accidentally takes over her body while trying to save her. For the first time, Sera finds herself enjoying the life of the person she's inhabiting--and falling in love with the boy who lives next door. But Cyrus will stop at nothing until she's his again, and every moment she stays, she's putting herself and the people she's grown to care about in danger. Will Sera have to give up the one thing that's eluded her for centuries: true love?


London, 1349, fourteen year old Seraphina Ames shares a stolen moment with the sweet, beautiful son of the Alchemist, Cyrus. Then she is stabbed. Dying in a dark street, Cyrus cannot let her go, and miraculously saves her life. Cyrus and Seraphina will live forever. But forever comes at a cost. Sera must take another person’s body to survive, and she must do so every ten or so years. In the process, the host’s soul dies, but Sera lives.

Six hundred years pass, and it is no longer her and Cyrus alone. Sera’s now part of a coven of ‘Incarnates’, immortals Cyrus has made like them. And Cyrus is no longer the sweet boy she once knew. Twisted and warped by six centuries of life, he’s cold, controlling and abusive. Sera longs for escape. To finally die. She’s on her way to do so, when she witness a horrific accident. Desperate to atone for her crimes, Sera attempts to save a girl’s life, but in the process, takes her body by accident. Sera becomes sixteen year old Kailey Morgan.

Once prepared to die, Sera finds herself living a life she’s maybe not so willing to leave. Sera may have moved on... but Cyrus has not.

Seraphina:

Sad, trapped and introspective, Sera has this quiet inner strength I loved. At the start of The Alchemy of Forever, she’s resolved to leave her ‘coven’ and go to her death, and she does so with a quiet dignity and steely resolve. Despite the ennui and weight of six-hundred long years of half-life, she’s scared and uncertain. She’s flawed. She’s fragile. She’s spent almost her entire existence sheltered and oppressed for by the controlling—and frankly psychotic—Cyrus, her once-beloved saviour turned captor. Despite her long existence, she sounds young. While world-weary, she’s retained a sense of wonder in her life, and she sees beauty in the world in a way Cyrus cannot. I loved looking through her eyes, and I enjoyed her wry humour.

Heartache and Heartbreak:

As Sera finds herself assimilating Kailey’s life, she learns to love, and to really live again. She allows herself to hope that she can make this life work. It’s both bitterly beautiful, and overwhelmingly sad. For hundreds of years, she’s survived at the cost of others. What didn’t occur to me prior to reading the book is the simple fact that Sera has stolen a teenage girl’s life. As she walks around day to day, wearing her skin, and occupying her world, my heart ached for the loss Kailey’s friends and family don’t even know they’ve suffered, and the pain that will inevitably come when Sera must leave. It’s amplified by the fact that Sera is aware of this, and grieves it herself. She hates the heartache she’ll cause, and she comes to love Kailey’s people like her own. It hurts even more as a sweet, tender, tentative romance builds with the boy next door, Noah. The Alchemy of Forever is certainly not a romance, but this very subtle, realistic affection develops in the background, giving it yet another layer of sadness and heartbreak.

Black, White, and A Hundred Shades of Grey...

But. I found it hard to swallow it’s taken Sera six hundred years to try and leave Cyrus. Six hundred years of watching him lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and murder, and she’s only leaving now... and it leaves Sera in a kind of grey area. While Sera refuses to accept a body that is not close to death, or hasn’t been courting it, she is, for all intents and purposes, a killer. A killer with a conscience, yes, but not an utterly blameless victim, either. It’s fascinating, and Avery Williams doesn’t skirt the issue; she simply lays it out as it is for the reader to make up their own mind.

The Verdict:

The Alchemy of Forever is a beautiful story. It’s filled with moments of love and wonder and the joy of those first moments of new love... and tempered with a constant sense of loneliness and sadness. While Cyrus is physically absent for most of the book, the story has this feeling of constant menace and forboding, as he is always present in Sera’s mind. Despite the cliffhanger the book ends on, I found myself satisfied. It leaves a myriad of unanswered questions that both demand answers, but work unanswered.

But as much as I enjoyed the book—and I did—I found myself struggling to connect. It’s a surprisingly short novel—only 250 pages. So much is contained within, so much history, so much longing, hurt, happiness and anger... but I didn’t always feel these things as intensely as I’d like... perhaps distanced by Sera’s own distance from a life she’s living, but doesn’t truly know herself.

Despite a couple of issues, this is one of those stories I’ve turned the final page on, only to find it haunting me days later. It takes a magnificent imagination to birth a story which such a perfect blend of magic and science, beauty and brokeness. One thing is for sure: I can’t wait to see what Williams does next.

An enormous thank you to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing a review copy of The Alchemy of Forever!

30 comments:

  1. Fab review, Sarah! It was surprisingly a great novel . . . especially for a short read. It's rare to find a short read containing so many great things.

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    1. Eee! Thanks Erin! YES YES YES! I EMPHATICALLY agree. I can't get over how beautifully it was written... and this kind of silent ache Sera carries with her has stuck with me. And the ending? Oh, I LOVED it. It was just... it was just somehow utterly perfect for the novel.

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  2. UGH, this books sounds depressing. I have seen it around but never knew what it was about until now. I loved the review of course but I don't think I can read it. Also, I hate to do it but I have to say something because it will bother me if I dont. You gave it 3 stars at the beginning, but you put it in the label of 4 stars. I know, I am being weird again by pointing that out, but I'd want someone to tell me if I did that and I have a freakish belief in Karma. So yeah, you may throw things at me now. *ducks*

    Also, I just finished Shatter Me. I won it in a giveaway. OMG. I do so love YA now. Also. My critique group says I should read Harry Potter because Rowling is really good at the techniques of writing the perfect book and it might help me with my book. So yeah. Harry Potter books are in my future. Oh Dear God, I can hear your SQUEEE from here. LMAO.

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    1. Oh, Jen, I have to tell you: it kind of is... it's beautifully written, but oh yes, I do understand :)

      Eep! Thanks for pointing it out. It was definitely a 3-star for me. You're not being weird, either. You're being awesome.

      Oh my goodness... Shatter Me? Seriously... wow, well... if you're going to be reasing YA, you may as well read the best of it, and Shatter Me? Hell YES is it the best of it. Uh... and Harry? YES. Agreed. EMPHATICALLY AGREED. JK is a brilliant writer... I mean, how she structures her stories, her characterisation, her voice, and consistency... seriously, EVERYTHING... oh, also, I don't know if you've read it, but I'm read Daughter of Smoke and Bone at the moment, and wow. JUST WOW. You have a Kindle, right? If we're talking amazing writing? I'm in awe. If you can, download the chapter sample! Oh, it's SO good. I've compared her so far to JKR and Neil Gaiman... as far as I go there is no higher praise O____O

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  3. Your reviews are so well written, Sarah! Every time I am over here you make me want to read a different book. ;) This definitely sounds like a book I will have to try one day.

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    1. Aw, Sam, thank you... you're going to make me blush :S

      It is a wonderful little book, and I'm REALLY looking forward to seeing where Avery takes it next :)

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  4. It does sound like a lot of story to pack into a short amount of time. Fantastic review, Sarah. I already have this one so I'll probably leaf through it at some point, but it's always good to be prepared.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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    1. YES, and a lot goes in, but Avery pulls it off beautifully. It really is a lovely book, and it's wonderfully written. I hope you enjoy it!

      Thanks, Wendy! <3

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  5. It does sound like a lot of story to pack into a short amount of time. Fantastic review, Sarah. I already have this one so I'll probably leaf through it at some point, but it's always good to be prepared.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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  6. Wow. I think the cover is so beautiful, but that story sounds like it has a LOT of detail included. Not really sure how I feel about this book. Thank you for the review. I am very glad you liked it! Maybe I will give this a shot!

    Darlene @ Leather Bound and Lovely

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  7. I loved this book and I loved your review -- talk about a winning combination! :)

    I really liked that the author didn't make light of the fact that what Sera was doing was MURDER and that no matter how guilty she felt about it, it was happening. I think it'll be interesting to see the repercussions of taking over Kailey's body in the next book so hopefully that will be included!

    Great review! I'm confused though -- 3 stars or 4? DUN DUN DUUUUUUUNNNN... No seriously, I'm curious LOL. I'm thinking it was a 3 for you?

    Sonia

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  8. I loved this book! its a quick read but it was fun!Great review Saz, so glad you enjoyed it, though you had a hard time connecting with Sera. Great review as always Saz<3

    Ƹ̴Ӂ̴ƷFICBOOKREVIEWSƸ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ

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    1. Oooh, I'm so glad you did! It is so beautifully written, and the concept is MAGIC. I'm not really entirely sure why it didn't happen for me. Perhaps just not the right time? It's still kind of stuck in my head 2 weeks later, though! Good sign :D

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  9. YES. I so understand your point about it taking Sera so. flipping. long to attempt leaving Cyrus. I understand that's he a creepy, controlling b*stard, but still... I'd have tried to leave ages ago. Aside from that, I do kinda like the assholery that Cyrus brings because I like having characters in a story that make me grrrrr.

    I think I feel pretty much exactly the same way about this as you - you just summarised your thoughts much more beautifully, as you always seem to :D I enjoyed it, I just wish it was long to flesh out the characters and give them and the mythlology more depth. So yes, yes, yes to everything you write! And ahhh the ending! :S

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  10. Maybe the fact that you couldnt connect very much is beacuse the book was too short? It sometimes happens to me that way XDD. Kinda like the more time/pages I spend with the characters, the more I get to love them.
    Great review my dear, I've been wanting to read this one for a while but reviews are so enthusiastic. I totally prefer yours even though you also have a "but"
    I will dfinitely get this one once it comes in paperback! it is already in my bookdepository "wishlist' =D I love cheap pre-order paperbacks! woohoo!! =D

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  11. EXACTLY! Cyrus = so creepy! I don't know how she made herself stay with him for so long, but I admire that she didn't seem to despise him completely for everything he'd done. (I probably would've jumped off that train wreck from the very beginning LOL!) She was such a sweet character and I couldn't help but adore her completely too!

    Beautiful review (as always), Sarah-bara! I felt almost the EXACT same way!! It was a short and sweet and easy-to-read book, but I couldn't connect with it much either. And that ENDING -- oh my gosh, it was a torture weapon waiting to happen!! I really hope it doesn't mean what I think it means! x)

    P.S. Why are you not an aspiring writer???? Everything you write is always SO beautiful! ♥

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    1. Oh, Mimi, YES! It was really bittersweet... like... she hates what Cyrus has become, but she's still reluctant to let go of the beautiful boy she did love once, who WAS kind, sweet and curious :(

      It was really sad...

      Oh, honestly... Mimi, I'd LOVE to write... I could get past any kind of question of ability, and confidence issues... but I don't have any ideas... I'd LOVE to write something, but I've been struggling with the 'what' for nearly two years now... I get ideas for scenes, but no idea of a bigger picture... if that makes any sense? *sigh*

      You seriously warmed my heart-cockles, though. I grinned like a loon when I read that, and you MADE me day! ♥

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  12. I really need to get this book. It sounds like a book I'd really like. Awesome review, Sarah!

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    1. Oh, Mesa, I SO hope you like it! It really is a good book, and the writing and kind of... existential angst? Is beautiful.

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    1. Thanks Roro! It IS a good book, but it's maybe not everyone's cup of tea :)

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  14. That shades of grey thing is definitely fascinating and I love that in a story. I'm very intrigued to see how the author's done this. It sucks that you struggled to connect, but it does sound promising it continued to haunt you--I really love those books myself.

    Gosh, I really can't wait to give this book a try myself! I'm extremely intrigued and fascinated by it already, so I can't wait to see how it truly is.

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    1. Oooh, me too! I LOVE it when an author lets you think, and Avery Williams did it BRILLIANTLY. DEFINITELY give it a go! It's a really short read (only 250 pages?), and it's beautifully written. I'll be really interested to see where she takes the series :D

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  15. This book sounds amazing. I haven't paid close attention to the synopsis, the premise sounds a lot like the Immortals series. I can't wait to read this, especially after your beautiful review!

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    1. Ooooh, you know, I know a *LITTLE* about the Immortals series, but not much. I'll look it up. It *IS* good, and it's SO beautifully written! Thanks Andrea! xx

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  16. This book sounds a bit like The Host but without the impending doom of the world part?

    It's an interesting comparison, because Wanda/Wanderer seems quite apathetic about the whole thing at first, because it's just how it has always been for them and they can't live on their own I don't think?? But then seeing Whatsyfaces life she begins to question it. But atleast SMeyer cheats out of having to do the whole morality conversation by saying if they've been hosting for a while you can't get the original person back anyway.

    Not that I believe SMeyer wrote it, but we've already discussed this.

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    1. Hmmm... I can totally see how you'd make the connection... they're... hmm...
      INTERESTING.

      The way Sera and the Incarnates inhabit and take over someone elses mind has similar repercussions... the Host is destroyed... but they're very different creatures... and... it's not on such a scale.

      And you're right--it's an even more interesting comparison, given Wanda's... yes, apathy and ennui.

      Oooh.... seriously, I'd like to re-read The Host... I actually thought it was an excellent book (though slow and confusing at the start)... I'm really looking forward to the movie. Saorise Ronan is a truly excellent actress.

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    2. I only found out the other day that it was going to be a movie. OMG!

      But I often want to reread it but feel I can't simply because of the name on the cover :)

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  17. oh your first paragraph is so lovely sounding! The forever bit sounds quite ominous, haha. It sounds like a really interesting book, your review makes it absolutely beautiful. It's hard to fully like a book though if you don't connect with it though so I'm sorry that aspect didn't work out for you. Wonderful review as always, Sarah. :D

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    1. Awww, Elena! Thank you! It really is a gorgeously written book... I mean... it didn't grab me quite as much as I'd have liked, but I think it could just be frame of mind at the time? Defintiely worth reading :)

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