Though her family's come down in the world, one apprentice alchemist must save the princess—and the kingdom.
It's the 21st century in the kingdom of Nova, an analog England with both computer engineers and alchemists. Samantha Kemi's family had once been Nova's most renowned alchemists, but now it's all synthetic potions and megapharmacies. Modern alchemy is dominated by the superrich Asters, the Kemis' enemies—though gorgeous Zain Aster is quite friendly. Perhaps he's smitten with Samantha, though the gossip rags believe Zain adores Princess Evelyn. The princess (whose thoughts burst into Sam's first-person narrative as interludes) prepares a forbidden love potion to make sure of him, with results both hilarious and dire. All the best Novaen alchemists race to find the ingredients for Evelyn's cure, while a thinly drawn and cackling villain aims to defeat all the competitors. Sam, superbly talented at potions, finds each ingredient by traveling to a series of dodgy stereotypes: Bharat, where a voiceless woman in a sari serves curry and "exotic-looking fruit"; the mountains of the abominables, where Sam and her companions get their "very own Sherpa"; and dry, poor Zambi, where she bribes a corrupt guard while avoiding crocs and lions. Throughout her quest, Sam's constant awareness of alchemical principles is lovely, adding flavor to balance all the flat characters.
Charming and humorous but for the shopworn depictions of exotic foreigners. (Fantasy. 12-14)