Ottawa writer Martin Bueno’s debut novel, The Rainbow Alchemist, is an exciting, mysterious story that constantly blurs the lines between reality and fantasy as it welcomes readers into the world of psychic phenomenon, magic, and the occult.
At the centre of the story is wheelchair-bound politician Graham Walden, leader of the fictional New World Society Party of Canada, and his assistant and friend Eva Trenholm. While on a business trip down to Boston, Graham and Eva are pulled into a world of intriguing magical practices when Graham sends Eva to attend a deep trance psychic session on his behalf. They also meet a young girl, Rachel, who seems somehow connected to this magic. Graham is intensely curious about Rachel and the possibilities of magic, but Eva is skeptical and worries about its influence on him.
Graham has been unable to walk his entire life, due to an injury during his birth, and the question of whether he will ever find anything that will cure him and allow him to walk becomes the main conflict in The Rainbow Alchemist.
When he was a child, Graham’s mother took him to a faith healer, but with no result, and as an adult he is still plagued with nightmares of that experience. As Graham delves into a new world of psychic possibilities with Rachel’s assistance, magic becomes a potential cure for his disability. At the same time, a new experimental drug is thrown into the mix as well.
With these different story threads The Rainbow Alchemist deftly weaves together the themes of religion, magic, and science, all centered around the key question of Graham’s disability and whether or not he will walk again – and what will it take to cure him?
The Rainbow Alchemist is a quick-paced and exciting read, and its sure to delight readers by allowing them to guess at what’s real and what’s not. Graham and Eva are excellent foils, with Graham ready to jump ahead and believe in whatever strange things are happening, while Eva is reluctant and questioning – the reader can decide which one they agree with, and then maybe change their mind a few times throughout.
“I wanted to sort of ride that fine line, like is it fantasy or is it reality?” Bueno told Apartment613.
For a story that spirals off into eerie psychic trances and strange otherworldly magic, The Rainbow Alchemist is also remarkably grounded in the scientific world, especially medicine and pharmacology. Bueno’s own career background was responsible for this – he worked as a drug rep for 30 years, and has also worked in a lab making pharmaceuticals. He spent a lot of time travelling for work, and while he was on the road he started working on the book.
The inspiration for the story came to him when he was playing in a band and found out that one of his bandmates considered himself a psychic and led deep trance sessions.
“I went up to him and I said, ‘So, they tell me you’re a psychic, how cool is that?’” Bueno recounted. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m what you call a deep trance psychic, so I go…into a sort of trance…and then this new voice comes through me, and I just expound, and after a while I wake up and don’t remember anything I said, and it’s recorded.’
“And I said, ‘Well, that’s pretty crazy.’ So I went to one of his shows and I thought, wow that’s fascinating, that would make a heck of a good story.”
Another source of inspiration for the magical elements in the book was the art of Tarot card readings, which Bueno had explored in real life before he wrote the book.
“I approached it like a scientist,” Bueno said. “Okay, so what are the cards? Where do they come from? What are these archetypes? What’s their history? Why are they so fascinating? Why have they lasted so long?
“Actually, right now, there’s a phenomenal interest in Tarot. We’re living in an era right now where people are interested in magic and cultism and Tarot cards, angel cards, readings, psychics… There’s this whole new generation of people…that are going, like, wow, what is this stuff?”
This inspired him to take a different route with his book than what he saw as the traditional sci-fi or fantasy genres, shying away from writing about futuristic spaceships or medieval fantasy battles, and instead placing his story in modern day and exploring psychic phenomenon and Tarot.
Bueno said he wanted readers to decide for themselves whether they think the “magic” in the story is real. When he was dabbling with Tarot readings in real life, he was used to people reacting with skepticism, and he figured most people would approach his book’s subject matter the same way.
“I’ve had people come back to me and they said, ‘I really liked your book, Martin, but in the end it was all hokum, wasn’t it? There was no magic was there?’” Bueno laughed.
“They couldn’t buy into it, and I said, ‘Hey, take out of it what you want. I’m not here to tell you what to believe. Just enjoy my story.’”
You can order a copy of The Rainbow Alchemist here.