A serial killer is on the loose and the messages he leaves with the bodies suggest that he’s trying to settle a score with Holmes. Now she has to find the person behind this but also deal with something entirely unexpected: the developing romantic feelings she has for her friend.
The romance part of the story is short and sweet. Sherlock is asexual and develops feelings for Lestrade (also a woman in this version) who only has had relationships with men so far. Now Sherlock doubts that Lestrade would want a non-sexual relationship with another woman. These issues don’t take up that much space are mostly resolved quickly (Alchemy is a fairly short novella that focuses more on the mystery than on the romance plot) but I found them handled well. I have read a few stories that feature asexual characters where the character is drowning in self-hatred, convinced nobody would ever want them until their one true love assures them otherwise. Then everybody is immediately happy. Here Holmes does worry about Lestrade not wanting the type of relationship she is offering and it’s clear that she would be unhappy if that was the case. But she doesn’t put everything of herself in the hope for a relationship.
The mystery itself was simply not my cup of tea; it’s rather violent. The murders are brutal and there is a long fist-fight described in vivid detail. And - more importantly – it wasn’t really a Holmes mystery. Almost all the original Holmes-stories are told by Watson. That means we don’t see what’s going on in Holmes’s head or much of his struggle trying to figure out the mystery. We only see him explaining his deductions afterwards. A story told from Holmes’s POV means we see him (or in this case her) being as clueless about everything as the police and that takes away a lot of the magic the original stories hold for me. Besides, this Sherlock doesn’t even do much deducting. She gets the culprit pretty much handed on a silver plate and then does some extremely un-Holmesian things to catch him. Which brings me to my biggest problem with this story: the characters don’t feel like Holmes and Watson to me. If you swapped out their names I would never think they had anything to do with them. And that’s not the fault of the modern setting. I recently read Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective. It's a (non-romance) science fiction story in which the main characters are called Long Chau and The Shadow's Child and the world is as far away from a Victorian London as one can get. But the Holmesian influence was still easy to see. Alchemy, on the other hand, feels like somebody wrote a crime story and afterwards replaced the names.
The story does offer good asexual representation and also hints of a non-sexual relationship between Holmes and Watson that goes beyond friendship. But it does that in a mystery that is only mediocre, very violent and definitely not a Holmes story.
Content warnings: graphic violence, mentions of past drug addiction