Title: That Potent Alchemy
Author: Tess Bowery
Series: Treading the Boards #3
Genre: LGBTQ Regency Romance
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 center 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 centerpiece—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.
Source: ARC from NetGalley
For me the pace of this Regency romance was sadly too slow. At the very beginning Grace visits a fortune-teller with a friend, and though she is sceptical herself, a prophecy is made which makes it pretty easy to see what’s coming up during the book. The problem is it takes a long time to get there. Normally I forget about such things appearing at the very start, but this gets referred to a few times, keeping it in my mind and making me impatient to just get that bit over with already.
On top of this there’s a sort of mystery threaded throughout, but instead of leaving it as a subtle, low-level possible curse of the Scottish Play, we get scenes from the pov of a character involved, thereby removing the mystery and again leaving me impatient for the whole thing to just move along.
Which is a shame, because I liked Isaac. He’s inventive and clever and ambitious. His focus does sometimes let him down on the emotional front, but his curiosity more than made up for it in his pursuit of Grace and his willingness to except her for exactly who she is. I would have liked to have seen more of his chemical experiments, but on the whole he’s likeable and interesting enough.
Grace was tricky. I wanted to like her, but the mistrust and prickliness that grew as a result of her past made it hard for me at times. Her determination never to actually care for anyone or anything makes her borderline miserable and her fixation on only seeing the worst in Isaac got rather annoying. Her strength and determination to live her life on her terms are definitely admirable, though.
I also found the lack of discussion or introspection around her gender-fluidity a little disappointing. Because she lives in the theatre world and Isaac is enamoured with everything about her, her quirk of dressing certain ways on certain days could be easily be glossed over or ignored. It’s great that she’s comfortable enough with her identity that it rarely comes up in her thoughts, but at the same time, the lack of issue around it makes it far too easy to dismiss. She essentially reads as female throughout, but one who likes wearing mens clothes and taking a more dominant role in the bedroom on occasion.
The historical setting was fantastic. Filled with interesting snippets and just enough information to bring the time and place alive as well as the hard work of the theatre, without being too much or getting bogged down in minutiae. I also really liked Isaac’s family, warm and kind and fun as they were, though his brother Colin/Nicholas was a bit confusing at first, since I’ve never seen Colin used as a diminutive of Nicholas before.
So it’s a bit of a mix. A slow pace with sexy scenes thrown in along the way, but although the characters are interesting at first, I did struggle to maintain my interest at times. The history is good, but the romantic connection beyond sex doesn’t really appear until very close to the end. If you’re reading for the POC characters (and that gorgeous cover), then you shouldn’t be disappointed on that front, but the genderfluidity was less than it could have been. In all it’s okay, enjoyable in parts but not as compelling as I’d hoped.
That Potent Alchemy is Out Now.
Visit Tess Bowery for more details.