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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Beauty and the Alchemist by Elle Hartford is the first book in the Alchemical Tales series. Red has made a life for herself as a shopkeeper in Belville. But her quiet life is soon turned upside down when a dangerous criminal hides out in a castle located near the town. Matters get more complicated when the criminal is found dead. Red is optimistic when her friend, Officer Thorn, takes the case but when the primary suspect is Red’s best friend, she fears that Luca will be blamed for something he didn’t do. Red has no doubt that her friend is innocent but how can she prove it before he ends up in even more trouble? Not to mention there are certain dangers that have been lurking around town that she must contend with before it's too late.
The charm of this story is in being derived from fairytales, specifically Beauty and the Beast. The use of fairytales adds a unique aesthetic to the mystery and breathes new life into the genre. There are several remnants of Beauty and the Beast threaded throughout from the castle to the beastly criminal to a series of lost books. These give a charming sense of action to the premise and help to establish the themes of the story, particularly the concept that appearances can be deceiving and second chances. The characters in Red’s life each serve a purpose either in the town or to her personally. One of these characters is Luca who is the primary suspect in the murder, thanks to his connection to the victim. He is also Red’s best friend, which makes the mystery personal for her and gives her added reason, more than curiosity, to get involved while giving her the drive not to stop until she gets answers. There is also Officer Thorn who, though being Red’s friend, is also the police so her job comes first and she has to follow the investigation. Surprises are woven into the characters’ personalities and traits which create a town that is the idyllic backdrop for Elle Hartford's story. Beauty and the Alchemist is a fun read perfect for fairytale and mystery lovers with likable characters, magic, curses, and plenty of charm.