DNF Review: Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

In 1842, the gunpowder might of China’s Qing Dynasty fell to Britain’s steam engines. Furious, the Emperor ordered the death of his engineers—and killed China’s best chance of fighting back…

Since her father’s execution eight years ago, Jin Soling kept her family from falling into poverty. But her meager savings are running out, leaving her with no choice but to sell the last of her father’s possessions—her last memento of him.Only, while attempting to find a buyer, Soling is caught and brought before the Crown Prince. Unlike his father, the Emperor, the Prince knows that the only chance of expelling the English invaders is to once again unite China’s cleverest minds to create fantastic weapons. He also realizes that Soling is the one person who could convince her father’s former allies—many who have turned rebel—to once again work for the Empire. He promises to restore her family name if she’ll help him in his cause.

But after the betrayal of her family all those years ago, Soling is unsure if she can trust anyone in the Forbidden City—even if her heart is longing to believe in the engineer with a hidden past who was once meant to be her husband…

DNF@45 percent:

I really do hate to DNF books. It irks me. It’s like trying to touch my eye ball. I can’t do it. It’s gross. It makes me uncomfortable. I do not like contacts, can you tell? ICK.

Sometimes after putting down the book for so long and when I don’t even have the slightest desire to pick it up, I have to come to the realization that this is just not working out for me. I know that as a reviewer I should have the curtisy to finish the book. I rarely drop a book, especially if it’s an ARC. I have to have the guts and stop feeling guilty. There are just certain books that aren’t going to work for me personally.

This book is actually incredibly beautiful. The writing is exquisite, smooth, and daring. The history is my absolute favorite thing about this novel. There are industrial machines, mechanics, engineers, and men flying ships. Court politics of the Qing Dynasty and weird gadgets. But the interesting thing is that it’s a mixture between being historically accurate for the time period and steampunk. You’re probably thinking “what the hell?” Let me explain: Lin weaves the history of the Opium War, technology and science, and steampunk. She tells a story that shows the reader the struggles that China was going through during the period…but with flying ships!

Jin Soling’s mother is tragically addicted to opium after her husband’s execution when he and his team failed to halt the British invasion of 1842. They are now a disgraced Manchurian aristocratic family stripped of their titles. Jin has been struggling with her mother’s addiction. She fears that one day that will have no way to feed her addiction and one day she will die in agonizing pain. Jin travels to the city to sell of one of her father’s prized heirlooms. But she’s brought before the crown prince who strikes a deal with her. They are searching for her father’s allies. He sends her off to convince them to help the empire create weapons that could beat the like of their enemies.

I never had a problem with the main character. She’s actually pretty cool. She carries this strange needle gun for protection. She knows that a woman walking alone needs to be aware that she’s vulnerable in a world of men. She’s smart and calculating when speaking her mind. Some things can get you in trouble, but it’s the way you manipulate the men around you that helps you survive in a world where men try to control you.

“Fear was a sign of weakness and weakness was a sign of guilt. It was best to do nothing, say nothing.”

I like her intelligence. I like her strength. But, at times I felt she was a boring character. There were things I found interesting about her, but it was as if her personality was missing. She had intriguing elements that made her seem cool, like the needle gun and taking care of her family by herself. But those aren’t part of her personality. She was flat. I didn’t feel moved to learn more about her. I didn’t want to read on because I felt bored by the characters. The plot was awesome, the story was fucking fantastic, but the characters were flat on the ground dead.

The sad thing is that it wasn’t just her character that lost me, but the pacing of the novel. It dragged and dragged and dragged. It seemed as if one percentage was taking me hours to read. The writing is beautiful. This is true. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a pacing problem in the novel. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to read this book. That could have been the issue. The only thing I have left to say is: I am disappointed that I didn’t find the characters or the book more interesting.

Advance Reader’s Copy was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

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