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  • Writer's pictureTabitha Tomala

The Ballad of Alchemy and Steel by A.J. Calvin 2023 SFINCs Book Review

SFINCS 2023 Championship Banner
SFINCS 2023 Championship Banner

This review is part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship (SFINCS). SFINCS, pronounced “sphinx”. This is a yearly competition to recognize, honor, and celebrate the talent and creativity present in the indie community. It’s a sister competition to both SPFBO and SPSFC, and it highlights greatness in the novella format in all areas of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.).

To see more information on my team Behind the Musings check out this post!

The Ballad of Alchemy and Steel by A.J. Calvin  book cover
The Ballad of Alchemy and Steel by A.J. Calvin

Blurb for The Ballad of Alchemy and Steel

In the Murkor culture, it is customary for the individuals bound during the unity ceremony of ujar’havel to compose a book of memories detailing the events that led to their first meeting and subsequent desire to be joined.

As a Murkor without a mother to guide him, Sal’zar is afforded unusual freedoms in his path to ujar’havel and the selection of a caste. In their strongly matriarchal society, his father’s voice holds little weight. He must forge his own destiny, though he struggles to find the proper way.

Sal’zar knows he is unsuited to the soldier’s caste, but is running out of options. One fateful day, he journeys to the sparring ring to test his mettle, where he meets Jal’den. Jal’den is the same age, but has already proven himself a better fighter than most of the older children. Noting Sal’zar is without a sparring partner, Jal’den offers to pair with him, and so begins a long friendship that may ultimately become something more.The Ballad of Alchemy and Steel is a companion novella to The Relics of War, set in the years prior to the events of the trilogy. It features the story of Jal’den and Sal’zar, a pair of Murkor entangled in the Kal’s bid for freedom from the Soulless in the main series. The novella focuses on the happier story of their friendship and later, their life pairing union of ujar’havel.

This work provides an in-depth view of the Murkor culture not encountered in the trilogy.


Book Review for The Ballad of Alchemy and Steel

The Ballad of Alchemy and Steel portrays a friendship blossoming over time into romantic interest. Despite being novella length, the story hits all the key points in showing the character’s emotional growth. By the time the main character voices his thoughts to the reader, they will be fully invested in his hope for a romantic relationship.

There is also a wonderful amount of family dynamics and relationship building. Within a matriarchal society, one character was raised with a mother and the other without. The differences between their families allow moments of culture-building and understanding for readers.

The romance in this novella is so well written. The slow build of the relationship and the natural progression of the two characters' love is heartwarming. There is LGBTQ+ representation, and while there are moments when other characters cannot accept the romantic relationship, there is also a wealth of support. I highly recommend this to readers who enjoy slow build romance with a touch of fantasy.

To Purchase: Amazon

All or part of this book review may be used in marketing, I only ask that you reference Behind the Pages if you choose to do so.


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