An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

In a vividly imagined debut, Curtis Craddock introduces the world of the Risen Kingdoms, where airships soar among floating island nations, sorcerers play deadly politics and a young princess and her gallant bodyguard must stand together for the sake of the future.

In l'Empire Céleste, a society ruled by powerful sorcerers, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs's two distinguishing characteristics, in her father's opinion, are her lack of magic and her malformed hand. She finds joy in mathematics and the physical science of her world, especially the aether that gives islands and ships their lift, and she publishes scientific papers under the male pseudonym Martin DuJournal. No one takes any notice of her, except Jean-Claude, the king's musketeer, who pretends to be a drunken fool for the purposes of gathering information and remains her devoted protector and father figure. An international spotlight, however, suddenly focuses tightly on Isabelle when Artifex Kantelvar--a part-human, part-clockwork religious representative--asks her to marry Principe Julio, a prince of Aragoth, the neighboring kingdom, where Glasswalker sorcerers can step in and out of mirrors to travel from place to place.

Sprawling and immersive, Craddock's Risen Kingdoms world is a gorgeous blend of steampunk and sorcery that draws its flavor from 17th-century French and Spanish history. Practical, brainy and strong-willed, Isabelle is a refreshing heroine, and Jean-Claude makes for a lovable counterpart with his dogged bravery and sardonic wit. With a dramatis personae roll as long as a musket barrel and a complex political landscape, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors could easily serve as the first of a long and fascinating series. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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