That Potent Alchemy by Tess Bowery
Series: Treading the Boards, Book 3 (Stand Alone)
Publisher: Seamchecker Ent.
Release Date: October 5, 2016
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Is his love her safe place to land…or just smoke and mirrors?
Grace Owens danced her feet bloody to become the finest en pointe prodigy of her generation, but the only accolade she longed for—her father’s approval—never came. Finally, broken and defeated, she cut ties and fled to London to live life on her own terms.
Now, after four years as an actress in London’s smaller theatres, a last-minute production change lands her right where she never wanted to be again. Front and centre in the ballet—and back in toe shoes.
From his perch on the catwalks, machinist and stagecraft illusionist Isaac Caird can’t take his eyes off Grace. A woman who wears men’s clothing, but not as a disguise. An exquisite beauty who doesn’t keep a lover. A skilled dancer who clearly hates every pirouette.
The perfect lines of her delicate body inspire him to create a new illusion—with her as the centrepiece—that will guarantee sold-out shows. Maybe even attract a royal’s patronage. But first he has to get her to look at him. And convince her the danger is minimal—especially within the circle of his arms.
Featuring a gender-fluid ballet dancer, an amateur chemist who only occasionally starts fires, and an old rivalry that could tear them apart.
POC/Person of Color
That Potent Alchemy is the third installment of the Treading the Boards series, which takes place in Georgian London and centred on its thriving theatrical scene. As a former actor and lover of Regency fiction I was excited to read this, but as I hadn’t read the other two – focused around an m/m and a bisexual polyamorous relationship – before this one I was concerned it would be rather like joining a play in the middle of the second act. Thankfully I had no trouble beginning the series without prior knowledge of characters and events, and it was very welcoming to new readers.
I have to say, this book was nothing at all like what I expected – which isn’t a criticism because it was an enjoyable read, just intermittently confusing when my expectations were thwarted. I thought it would be a fluffy romance with a great deal of acting and science, and instead it was a smouldering romance with hot sex, very little on-stage action and the only real chemistry happening between Grace and Isaac. (Their chemical reaction was intense, and often quite explosive!) Isaac occasionally veered into the traditional ‘possessive alpha’ role, which may not bother some but was uncomfortable for me, but for the most part was an attentive, charismatic, and fabulously sensual lead whom I liked a lot. Grace was very relatable, with her fierce determination and sympathetic backstory, and I longed for her to find happiness, both on the stage and off. Also, did I mention the sex was hot? At several points modern words were used, which took me right out the moment, but apart from that mild irritation they were well done. (Although Grace kept hinting at domming Isaac and never followed through, which was such a tease, it really was most unfair. Hmmmph. ;- )
There were a few problems with the pacing, as the narrative lagged in the middle, and I don’t know if this was due to reading an uncorrected proof but Isaac’s brother used two different names throughout and it was never explained why. The main issue I had was that this novel is marketed as having a genderfluid character, and while it feels like an attempt was made, there was still so much more that could have been done to make Grace’s genderfluidity more integral to both the plot and her own identity. It’s tricky, as she obviously would not have had appropriate language to describe how she felt, but even when her internal POV states it would be ‘wrong’ to wear breeches one day and right another, there’s no psychological reason given, nothing to let the reader know why one day frills and frippery is the only thing that will suit, and the next only waistcoat and trousers will do. We’re told the desire for mannish clothing is more than just a costume, yet it never feels like anything other than a chance for her to be out in public without harassment and keep suitors at bay. Is this something new for her, or has she always felt this way? As a famous ballet star did she ever wish for the lead roles of a danseur, rather than danseuse? I just felt there could have been a deeper exploration of her sense of self, and it was a shame we never got it.
Still, if you’re looking for a Regency romance with plenty of spark, a proud and courageous heroine, her captivating and devoted love interest, and a historical tale with non-white leads, then consider adding That Potent Alchemy to your TBR pile today!
I’m a queer novelist, writing books about complicated LGBT relationships of all stripes and flavours. As for the personal details, I’m keeping it simple on the east coast. I’ve got a long-term partner, a couple of keyboard cats, and a few too many fish. My fixation on history has been brewing for a long time, and I’m overjoyed to have a chance to add some queer narratives back into some of the time periods we all love so dearly.
Find Tess online at http://tessbowery.com/
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.