There is something special about listening to a good book. The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian is good when read, but listening to it read by Julia Motyka enhanced the experience. The suspense was drawn out finer, and the Dorian, the gargoyle chef, was even more loveable. The book is an urban fantasy mystery set in contemporary Portland.
After accidentally discovering the Philosophers Stone and gaining immortality, Zoe Faust left her days of alchemical study behind her in favor of travelling through the United States. Now, she is ready to settle down for a while in her new, fixer-upper home. In shipping her material from France, however, she has picked up a stowaway, the French gargoyle Dorian Robert-Houdin. Brought to life centuries ago by a strange alchemy book, he is now returning to stone, and he needs Zoe’s help to decipher the book and restore him. Matters are further complicated when the handyman she has hired to repair her house is found murdered on her porch and several items, including Dorian’s book, are stolen.
Pandian does an expert job at blending the genres. She gives a strong picture of Portland and its small neighborhoods, a place where an herbalist-alchemist might well feel at home. The mystery is strong, and the addition of some alchemical elements and a living gargoyle do not keep Pandian from playing fair: The clues are there, at least in retrospect, if the reader cares to look.
The characters in the Accidental Alchemist are engaging and well-drawn. Zoe is convincing as someone who has lived a few centuries: She is still finding new things and recovering from old pains, but she has the memory and the cares of an older person. Dorian is a proud, opinionated chef who takes over Zoe’s kitchen and prepares delicious gourmet meals for her and for her new friends. The secondary characters are also intriguing: Detective Max Liu, who might become more than a friend; Brixton, the teenage boy who learns Dorian’s secret and becomes an unexpected, if sometimes sulky ally; and Bird, the tea shop owner who works hard to build a community are strongly drawn characters.
Julia Motyka does not do much by way of varying the voices, but she distinguishes them enough for the listener, and she gives Dorian a great French accent. She also has a good voice rhythm, making the book pleasant to listen to. Listening also forces a reader to slow down a little, to relish the story as it unfolds. With a familiar book, this allows for discovering new angles. And, of course, an audiobook is great for driving, exercising, weeding the garden, or any other task that keeps the hands but not the mind fully occupied.