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Literature / Die Alchimistin

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Die Alchimistin (The Alchemist Woman, 1998, second version published 2011) is a fantasy/mystery novel by Kai Meyer. It follows the story of Aura Institoris, seventeen at the beginning of the novel. She lives in a remote castle with no company but her Dysfunctional Family: a mysterious and bad-tempered elderly father Nestor who is an alchemist and rarely ever leaves his laboratory, a much younger beautiful mother Charlotte who struggles to bring joy into the castle, an adopted brother Daniel who is just a tad too close with Aura, another adopted brother Christopher who finds a mentor figure in her father, and the cute little sister Sylvette that everyone adores. Life isn't all nice to begin with, and then Aura is being sent away to a boarding school in the mountains. Just before she leaves, however, her father is murdered, and later she encounters the same murderer on the train, who first attempts to kill her but then somehow doesn't; worse, Aura feels herself attracted to him.

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The murderer leaves her a letter that explains some things about the killing of her father, and also reveals the truth: Aura is nothing but a pawn in a centuries-long intrigue between the so-called Undying Ones, and that their next victim is due to be Sylvette.

The novel has two sequels, Die Unsterbliche and Die Gebannte.

Die Alchimistin and its sequels contain examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Sylvette gives birth at eight. It's not specified whether it was natural or Morgantus used some potions of his to make her puberty come early.
  • Actually, That's My Assistant: The powerful threatening guy is revealed to be a helpless marionette, and a helpless dying elderly man believed to be an unwilling marionette is the main villain.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Aura, for her family at least.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Thanks to the villains' lifestyle, they get quite many of these. The most important being Gillian who kills his father.
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  • Aroused by Their Voice: Aura loves it when a man speaks softly. Daniel does it when he feels like it, but Gillian can do it to perfection.
  • Asshole Victim: Nestor. He's not very endearing in the beginning of the book, and when we learn the secret of his immortality...
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Gillian identifies himself and is identified by others as a male (and he can father children), but he has some feminine features in his body, which leads to him being able to pass as a woman in female clothing – and which doesn't make him less attractive from Aura's point of view.
  • Big Brother Worship: Christopher's bond with Sylvette is so strong that Charlotte grows jealous.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: St. Jacob's Institute for Highborn Ladies. If you blindly follow the rules it's just a very strict institute, but if you dare do anything Madame de Dion doesn't like, one day you're likely disappear never to be found. Actually, you'll be sacrificed so that Morgantus would bathe in your blood.
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  • Brother-Sister Team: Gian and Tess, although they are in fact cousins, become spectacular seers if teamed.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Christopher buries Nestor's body in the laboratory garden to avoid it being discovered. It lies there for more than half of the novel, and then Christopher discovers that the grave is covered by the grass of Gilgamesh that grants immortality.
  • Child Mage: Gian and Tess, when working together.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The first chapter starts with Christopher's point of view, and, as Fish out of Water in his new family by adoption, it looks like he's set to be the main character. He gets killed off in the middle of the book.
  • Demoted to Dragon: For quite a large part of the book Lysander is the Big Bad. And then Morgantus comes out. And then it gets subverted in Die Gebannte, when Lysander appears as the main villain again.
  • Disappeared Dad: Nestor hardly comes down from his laboratory to see his family, and then he dies (the death isn't discovered until much later).
    • Gillian is believed dead for seven years. Gian isn't amused (at first) when he does show up with Luke, I Am Your Father.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Gillian, despite being a hired killer, doesn't want to kill anyone but those who deserve it. Lampshaded by Lysander (Morgantus, actually) when he explains why Nestor should be murdered.
  • Everyone Is Related: Nestor and Charlotte are married and have two daughters – Aura and Sylvette. Then Sylvette turns out to be Lysander's daughter. Aura falls in love with Gillian who is in fact the son of Morgantus. Sylvette gives birth to Lysander's daughter Tess, and Aura to Gillian's son Gian. Oh, and did I mention Charlotte is Nestor's daughter?
  • Family Disunion: Charlotte insists on family dinners, but they are always a highly strained affair and quarrels can break out any second.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Gillian's master is always like that. Gillian isn't fooled.
  • Flirty Stepsiblings: Siblings by adoption, actually, but they call themselves stepsiblings. Played straight with Daniel and Aura until he suffers injury that renders him incapable of fathering children. Later defied by Nestor when Christopher is adopted too.
  • Freakiness Shame: During Gillian's night of passion with Aura, he isn't sure how she's going to deal with his hermaphroditism. Aura doesn't care a bit.
  • Give Him a Normal Life: Charlotte, in the beginning, desperately tries to create a happy and loving family. Primarily for Sylvette's sake.
    • Lysander has the same motive when he decides not to claim his daughter, as a life in the cellars and sewers of Vienna isn't exactly what a normal childhood is like.
    • Then there's Gillian who stays out of his son Gian's life as he's not yet over with his plans of revenge against his master.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Sylvette. Interestingly, the girl herself (when she's five, at least) wants to dye her hair black, and Charlotte opposes strongly, believing that Sylvette's gold hair embody her innocence and purity.
  • Honorary Uncle: Family friend and Charlotte's lover Friedrich is called "Uncle" by her children.
  • Human Sacrifice: An important part of the Undying Ones' rituals of preserving their youth – but not the worst one.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Taken Up to Eleven with Sylvette. Even being forced into incest, giving birth at the age of eight, being separated from her daughter, and living in the underground tunnels couldn't destroy her angelic nature. Subverted in the sequels, where she does get more bitter and cynical as she grows up, but her Hidden Heart of Gold stays in its place and she dies in a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • In Love with the Mark: Gillian's love for Aura and his refusal to kill her is what triggers the plot.
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: Madame de Dion, Headmistress of St. Jacob's Institute for Ladies. She is extremely strong and muscular, speaks in a deep voice, and shows no interest in men, and the girls nickname her Monseigneur. Subverted as she turns out to be really a man.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Daniel and Aura after his injury.
  • Love at First Sight: Gillian and Aura.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Both times it was The Reveal to the character but not to the reader.
    • Gillian to six-year-old Gian, turning up unexpectedly at Castle Institoris. Aura had confirmed before, talking to Christopher, that Gian is Gillian's child.
    • And then Morgantus to Gillian (Lysander had already revealed it several pages earlier). The confession doesn't save Morgantus.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Subverted with Charlotte and Aura, as neither of them is particularly fond of Nestor (or Nestor of them).
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Subverted. Nestor knows very well who Sylvette's true father is, and doesn't have any problems with that, meaning he doesn't treat Sylvette worse than anyone else.
  • Mate or Die: Lysander is forced by Morgantus to have sex with Sylvette. Morgantus threatens to rape Sylvette himself and then kill her if Lysander doesn't agree.
  • Morality Pet: Sylvette for Lysander.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Downplayed, as Daniel survives after falling from his horse but is unable to have children – which is all Nestor needs.
  • No Sympathy Between Mooks: Only too true for Lysander and Nestor.
  • Offing the Offspring: For Morgantus, Lysander, and Nestor, a regular pastime for about five hundred years.
  • Professional Killer: Gillian.
  • Relationship Sabotage: Nestor does everything he can to prevent Aura from developing any romance with either of her brothers by adoption.
  • Romantic False Lead: Daniel for Aura.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Aura becomes pregnant at seventeen, when still (technically) a student of St. Jacob's Institute. She deals with it surprisingly well, which is lampshaded by Christopher.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Stein and Bein who do the dirty work for Morgantus. A rarer example of the trope since they are The Dividual and nobody can tell one from the other.
  • Villainous Incest: The key to immortality discovered by Morgantus is to have your daughter bear you a daughter, then kill the former, wait until the latter grows up, and start all over again.
  • Wife Husbandry: Nestor with Charlotte. Add to it the fact that she's his daughter.
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