Dave Duncan,
The Alchemist's Apprentice
(Ace, 2007)

In Venice, legendary physician, alchemist and seer Maestro Nostradamus is the person to see for any number of complaints. He can prescribe a medicament for the toothache or cast a horoscope to foretell your future. And if he warns you of danger, you should pay attention.

Alfeo Zeno is the maestro's apprentice. He spends his time helping Nostradamus with his horoscopes or transcribing the maestro's predictions. In his spare time, he makes his own predictions with his trusty tarot deck. Zeno is very much surprised, however, when representatives of Venice's Council of Ten arrive one night to arrest the maestro. Alas, the maestro has vanished, so they arrest Zeno in his stead.

One of the nine procurators, a great friend of the doge, has died of poison, after being warned of danger by Nostradamus. Naturally, Nostradamus is believed to be the cause of his death. Since poisoning is classed with witchcraft, both Nostradamus and Alfeo are in danger of burning. The doge, who is also a friend of Nostradamus, gives them three days to flee the city. But Nostradamus refuses to leave. With Alfeo's help, he sets about learning who did commit the murder.

The Alchemist's Apprentice is a fun murder-mystery and historical fantasy all rolled into one. Alfeo Zeno is an engaging narrator with a strong desire to keep both himself and his crotchety master off the pyre. He is as capable with a sword as he is with his tarot deck, which is useful if there are buckles needing to be swashed -- and when aren't there?

Duncan's descriptions of the City of Bridges bring Venice brilliantly to life, almost as though the city were another character in the mystery. The Alchemist's Apprentice is a vastly entertaining story and I hope to see more of Alfeo Zeno.

review by
Laurie Thayer

1 September 2007

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