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on December 4, 2011
Observing how perfectly the beginning and end of Brimstone frames the story within is paramount to understanding the brilliance of this creation.

First and foremost, Brimstone is a story - the story of Jenny Swift embarking on her apprenticeship as an alchemist. It is a beautifully crafted and thoroughly enjoyable adventure. The settings are so masterfully described that the world simply unfolds around us as we go. The characters are so skilfully fashioned that we know them from the moment we meet them but we understand them more deeply as the tale goes on.

Yet the brilliance of Brimstone is how it subtly connects us to that which can't be told, only felt; that which is beyond the words and emotions of the story. This calmly sits within us all the way through the book as demonstrated by our soft smiles of contentment but nowhere is it more striking than at the beginning and end. Appropriately framing the story within and stated with perfect simplicity are the deepest and most complex moments of the human experience that travel gently to our core and connect us to the very essence of life - and that is the story of Brimstone; the story of the search for the essence of life.

And what a search! The story is no less wonderful than the superbly crafted world and characters. There is adventure, mystery, danger, romance, hopes and disappointments. As Jenny is forced to reconcile her purpose and place in the world, she gets caught in the middle of an age-old search for the philosopher's stone. From innocent beginnings she soon finds herself in a world full power struggles, murder and deceit.

Brimstone is nothing short of outstanding!!!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 30, 2012
I almost passed right by Alan Skinner's Brimstone (Earth Air Fire and Water), but then something made me take a second look. I was very glad that I did. This is not a heavy read. It doesn't have a complicated plot with many convolutions, though the tale revolves around a nice little mystery. It is, however, an easy-to-read short novel of a "beginner's fantasy" sort, perfectly suitable for Young Adults as well as Grandmas. As an added plus, the historical bits about alchemists and alchemy is right on the money.

Great read, one I'll read again down the road. I'll be watching for more from this author.
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on November 1, 2010
Within each of us are powers to do great things. Jenny is a 15 year old girl from times gone by (and perhaps only ever imagined). She is on the threshhold of discovering just who she will become as she experiences danger, betrayal and murder. The characters in 'Brimstone' are masterful depictions of depth and colour who thrust and parry towards their destinies, not least of whom is Jenny. With love, courage and extraordinary ability as an apprentice alchemist, Jenny tackles this unfolding story of adventure, mystery and science.
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on March 27, 2012
This book moves deceptively fast: there were times when Jenny (the protagonist) is frustrated by the lack of action, then you find out it's only been a day. The plot is interesting, though I wouldn't call it mind blowing or anything. It is also very straight forward read; there's only one plot and zero side story.

Jenny is quite naive, having grown up far away from everyone except her parents. This innocence pops up throughout the book and unfortunately does nothing for the "heroine." For instance, she decides not to lock the front door of her master's house because there are people home. Just because you live in the forest doesn't mean you shouldn't lock your door (I grew up in the ghetto, but this really irked me). Then, after repeatedly being told that all alchemists keep secrets, she goes and blabs it right away. No hesitation to what she was doing. Luckily this worked to her benefit, but seriously?!

Lastly what bothered me was not being able to figure out where the heck this is set. The author mentions familiar places (Venice/Venetian, etc) but then goes on to make up a majority of the other names. Confusing, to say the least.

Interesting plot that could have been better executed. Jenny learns alchemy quickly and independently in the face of a tough situation, however as a person she doesn't grow all that much. Yes, she is no longer angry for being taken from her family, but she does not speak up about her concerns (even though, to me, it was very obvious who the villain was), fails to listen to sage advice, and altogether lacks some common sense.
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on March 21, 2012
I really liked the story of Jenny Swift. The character was reasonably well developed and the plots worked well enough. The only things of note that need improvement are some grammatical errors and character perspectives that were jarring. In the first chapter the perspective kept switching between Antrobus and Jenny. There were several other spots where the writer was writing from the perspective of say Jenny, then switched briefly to what another character was thinking or feeling and then switched back. To me that is very jarring. Better to pick one perspective and stay with it. Other than that I liked the story and would read any additional stories about these characters.
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on January 15, 2014
This was a tolerable story about a girl who is chosen to become an alchemist and becomes embroiled in city politics. It's a simple read with a straightforward plot. Although the characters are teens, I'd say this is more of a middle grade book, because it focuses on adventure rather than feelings and romance.

My biggest problem with the book was the setting. I think it's supposed to be a historical novel, except the locations are fictional. Based on the scientific advancements and social structures mentioned in the book, I'd guess it's set in fourteenth century Europe somewhere. Normally I love historical fiction, but this book avoids diving into anything historical. I had a hard time picturing what the characters are wearing, what the houses look like, even their everyday behavior. It feels much more like a fantasy setting to me, with generic multi-room stone houses, cobbled streets, open-air markets, and dense mysterious forests.

The characters are somewhat flat. Their motivations are often unclear, especially when they change their behavior. I was rather confused when Jenny's friend Emily decides she likes Tom, the injured soldier, instead of John, the alchemist's son. In fact, the women in the book behaved in a very unladylike manner for the time period, running around unescorted and spending extended periods of time with men. The women are superficial and flighty, and the reader never gets a glimpse into why they behave that way.

The writing had amateur moments, mostly in regards to clarity and point of view. I noticed a lot of head hopping, with the reader seeing and feeling everything for a character, and then in the next paragraph jumping to someone else with no warning. Some of the phrasing was awkward, such as "Jenny heard the voice and a gentle poke on her shoulder." (Chapter 3) I noticed some grammatical and spelling issues, although not an overwhelming number of them.

I don't think I would recommend this book. I found it to be slow and unfocused. It isn't terrible, but I don't feel it was worth my time to read.
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on May 25, 2013
I was hooked by page three. The idea that each person was given a job/career regardless of their own desires kept me reading. Then, the intriguing story line took over and I was completely engrossed. Excellent storytelling, writing and creative imagination.
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on February 7, 2014
Although I do do not fall under the category of a YA (those days have long since passed), I decided to check this book out. I actually started reading it the other day as a "trade off" from a heavier novel I was reading. Since I started this, the other novel hasn't been touched. It was really quite interesting and I rather enjoyed the experience overall.

I think the world-building needs a little work, especially in the city. I really liked the descriptions that were there, but I had trouble picturing some things. Sprinkling in some more descriptions of people's clothing and stuff, as well, might help.

I liked the cast of characters, but some were a bit one-dimensional. We don't exactly know what motivated them to get involved in the thick of the plot. As funny and sometimes daring as I found Emily, for instance, her only motivation for most of what she does seems to be out of friendship and loyalty to Jenny. In the beginning, when the reader first meets Emily, though... I sensed some sort of back story with Emily and Antrobus--that they knew each other... And the girl is a flirt. I was a bit glad when she decided not to chase John, but I don't really know why exactly she decided she liked Tom instead (but, hey)... LOL

There is a bit of dialect affected dialogue in this. The author doesn't grossly over-do this somewhat taboo convention as much as some authors. It's pretty easy to follow and decipher.

There were some sudden point-of-view changes, especially in the latter portion of the book. I got a little confused a few times and had to flip back a few screens to recheck the action. I often read in the evenings, though, and sometimes there are other things going on around me.

I did figure out 'whodunnit' behind the mayhem quite early on, but there was little in the way of red herrings (and I used to be very avid reader).

Overall, as I said, I enjoyed this. There is violence in the story, but I don't think it dominated. There's not much in the way of flowery romance (thank goodness) or overly sexual situations (again, thank goodness). Just a bit of innuendo, and a couple of scenes with the wounded be tended to or people changing, mostly. There is a good deal of jargon related to alchemy that could lead to some discussion and looking up of the vocabulary, for those parents wanting something with a bit of challenge for their YA readers. I think I would recommend it to older YA readers. I do recommend that parents read it first, just to be sure they don't find anything that conflicts with familial values (but I would always recommend pre-reading books for YA readers).

To the author, thank you for the journey. I look forward to future installments (since this does say book one). ;)
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on March 19, 2016
A fun and exciting book written for both the young and the young-at-heart. Lots of actions in what turns out to be a mystery, but doesn't seem one at first.

Fun characters and fast paced plot. Well written. Really enjoyed my afternoon reading this book.
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on March 18, 2016
The book started off well and I read through the beginning quickly. It then starts going downhill before dropping off a cliff. I forced myself to continue, hoping it would improve, but it did not. Around the 58% mark I decided I had better things to do with my time.
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