Author: Avery Williams (author website)
Release Date: April 26th 2012 by Simon & Schuster
Age Group: Young Adult
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.
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.