Beauty and the Alchemist The Alchemical Tales Book 1
by Elle Hartford Genre: Cozy Fantasy Mystery
In this magical mix-up of fairy tales and murder, Little Red Riding Hood solves the mystery at the heart of Beauty and the Beast . . .
What does it take to overcome a curse?
Traveling alchemist Red settles into life as a shopkeeper in rural Belville and expects to focus on her potions. But crime stops for no woman. Neither does Red’s friend, police officer Thorn! When a beastly criminal escapes to a nearby abandoned castle and is found murdered, Thorn immediately suspects Luca, a meek-mannered bookseller–not to mention Red’s best friend.
Red knows that there’s more to the castle–and the murder–than meets the eye. But as she rushes to prove Luca’s innocence, she’s beset by a not-dead-yet ghost, a beautiful and ill-tempered suspect, and a horde of mysterious mist creatures that terrify the town. Oh, and then there’s the series of lost books that hold the key to the castle’s curse! If Red and her friends can’t find the books and solve the mystery, Luca might not be the only one in trouble. But in idyllic Belville, appearances can be deceiving. Red will need all of her alchemical prowess and all the help she can get in order to uncover the truth behind this twisted tale.
This special second edition includes a new epilogue, recipes, and a sneak peek at book two of The Alchemical Tales.
When we hit the third corner, I stopped dead. It felt as though a bucket of ice-water raced down my back. The darkness was so thick that even with my goggles, I could barely see beyond my own hand. The front of the castle stretched away into inkiness.
Officer Thorn, already a pace ahead and nearly disappearing, looked over her shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“Something here,” I mumbled incoherently. “There’s something wrong with being here. Don’t you feel it?”
“To tell you the truth, I’ve never been haunted, so I wouldn’t know what it feels like,” Thorn replied blithely.
I sucked air into my lungs. The fastest way out of here is forward, I reminded myself. Gritting my teeth, I began following the officer once more. “Just stay close, okay? No bounding off after evidence or what have you.”
She looked back and grinned, her long teeth flashing. “The sooner we catch Owl, the better.”
“I don’t think Owl is what’s making these shadows,” I said.
Thorn was impervious. “Then it could be Gloria alone, and that’s worse. See, Red, your problem is—”
I never got to hear what my problem was, unfortunately. The grass we’d been edging along gave way to a stone patio set a few inches below the surrounding ground, and I stumbled. With that jarring step came recognition of the fact that we were right in front of the castle’s main entrance, and another bone-penetrating chill.
“Wh-wh-whatever it is y-you want to s-see, it must be h-here,” I said, my teeth chattering.
“It’s just a little cold, Red. Are all islanders such wimps?”
“Hush, and look around!” I insisted. I was starting to think that maybe Thorn hadn’t ever been haunted simply because she refused to see anything other than what she wanted to.
“It’s the front of the castle,” she informed me matter-of-factly. She began stalking about the patio, with me close on her heels. “I was on the inside team during the search earlier, so I missed this. Nice carvings on the doorway. Old and worn down, but they’ve held up well considering. Good sturdy door. See that ironwork across the front? Guess we’re not dealing with the fey, eh? And what’s this—gems inlaid in the doors, too. Surprised those haven’t walked off over time. Maybe they’re locked down—get it? Ha ha. What’s this?”
I’d only been paying half-attention to Thorn’s monologue, but the repetition of the phrase in a new tone of surprise caught my ear. I turned from looking over my shoulder to see that Thorn held something small and rectangular in one large hand.
“Did you just find a book?” I asked, startled.
“Did I?” She handed the object to me for inspection. As I took it, though, the air around us thickened. I had to hold the slim volume very close to my face to see the bark binding. My gaze drifted over the title and the gold leaf to notice that, rather than blackness, a silver fluidity filled my vision.
“Why is it foggy?” I tucked the book into a pocket in my cloak for safe-keeping and frowned as I looked up. Officer Thorn looked just as surprised as me. I could see her face well, despite the cloudiness, because the moonlight had reappeared. It bounced off the water in the air. The world was brighter now, but it was also much closer.
Officer Thorn’s club rose, sending swirls ricocheting through the air. “Never mind the fog, Red. Look here, at the corner of the doorway. Doesn’t that look like—”
Again, I was destined not to hear the officer’s thoughts. Only fair, really, considering how often she interrupted mine. But I wasn’t thinking that at the time. At the time, I was screaming like a banshee, because something had grabbed me from behind.
Elle adores cozy mysteries, fairy tales, and above all, learning new things. As a historian and educator, she believes in the value of stories as a mirror for complicated realities. She currently lives in New Jersey with a grumpy tortoise and a three-legged cat.
Find more stories of Red and her friends at ellehartford.com. And while you’re there, sign up for Elle’s newsletter to get bonus material, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and terrible jokes!
From Harry Potter to The Da Vinci Code, alchemical symbols and inventions play a dramatic role in storytelling. I myself write about all the time in my new mystery series! But what is alchemy?
The way I think of it, alchemy is a field where history, science, and magic come together. To put it simply . . .
It isn’t New Age. The alchemy I’m talking about is what I call “old school” alchemy. Up until the 1400s or so, it was considered a real science. Kings had royal alchemists, and noble sons went into the profession (often looking for ways to expand their family fortune, but we’ll set that aside for now).
It’s more famous than you might think! Today, some people we remember as important early scientists actually considered themselves alchemists. One example of this is Sir Isaac Newton, who dabbled in alchemy all his life, though he generally kept this hidden because by his time (the 1600s) alchemy was considered questionable.
It was about the Elixir of Life–for some. Since we’re speaking of famous alchemists, you might be thinking of Albus Dumbledore and his friend Nicolas Flamel . . . who was, in fact, based on a real person. The Philosopher’s Stone was a sort of “unicorn” in alchemical research: everybody wanted one, and there were lots of theories about how to make one. It was rumored that the Stone could do all kinds of things, including grant everlasting life, cure colds, create gems, and–of course–turn anything into gold.
It was about gold, too. What’s up with that? Well, for a lot of people–including many kings–more gold meant more money, just like you’d expect. But for serious alchemists, it wasn’t about money at all. One of the fundamental tenets of alchemy is that everything in the world can be perfected. And, as ancient alchemists saw it, raw materials like lead or copper were just really imperfect versions of gold, which was the pinnacle of all metals. So in striving to create a stone that could make gold, what alchemists were really trying to do was create a process by which the physical world could be transformed into its “best self,” so to speak.
It was also about mercury! Honestly, to some alchemists, the element mercury was even better than gold. This is because ancient alchemy was science and world view and religion all rolled into one big philosophy. The four elements–water, fire, air, and earth–which today we think of as mystical were facts of life to the alchemists, and mercury embodied all four. Yes, I’m talking about the stuff that drove hatters mad and that used to be in every thermometer. Some alchemists thought it held the secret to life itself.
It was a field of research. So, what did alchemists actually do? Well, some of them were charlatans, and they spent a lot of time running confidence schemes and escaping from the law. :) But “scholarly” alchemists spent months on end in their laboratories. Alchemical equipment often included things like kilns, beakers, mortars and pestles, and all kinds of glass containers. Picture the quintessential “mad scientist” set up with a complicated array of pipes and burners and bubbling liquids, and you’re on the money.
It gave us a lot! Of course, alchemy has given us endless fodder for crazy stories and secret society theories–especially because alchemists tended to write about their science using religious metaphors and complicated symbolism. Because hey, not everyone can be trusted with the secrets of making gold, right? And not everyone can know that we actually can’t make gold . . . oops. It’s true, alchemy never did give us an Elixir of Life or a Philosopher’s Stone. However, it did give us chemistry, and the beginnings of biology and physics as well.
And why, you may wonder, have I done all this research? For one thing, I find it simply fascinating. But it’s also the basis for my cozy mystery sleuth, an “old-school” alchemist named Red. Because who better to help solve mysteries than someone who has tons of random scientific equipment, extensive botanical knowledge, and a dedication to careful observations of fact?
You can read stories about Red and her friends on my website, ellehartford.com. You can also find my blog there, where I share lots of “fun facts” from my research every Friday! And of course, for the rest of April, Beauty and the Alchemist–my very first novel with Red–is on a special “anniversary edition” sale. Check it out wherever you buy ebooks!