Alchemy of Stone

Who Holds the Key to Your Heart?

Who Holds the Key to Your Heart?

Title: The Alchemy of Stone
(Ama­zon, Goodreads, Web­site)
Author: Eka­te­rina Sedia
(Ama­zon, Goodreads, Web­site)
Series: None
Pub­lisher: Prime Books
Genre: Sci-Fi, Steam­punk
For­mat: Paper­back
Source: Pur­chased from bookstore

Syn­op­sis:

Mat­tie, an intel­li­gent automa­ton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds her­self caught in the mid­dle of a con­flict between gar­goyles, the Mechan­ics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giv­ing way to the new, Mat­tie dis­cov­ers pow­er­ful and dan­ger­ous secrets — secrets that can com­pletely alter the bal­ance of power in the city of Ayona. How­ever, this doesn’t sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who cre­ated Mat­tie and still has the key to her heart — lit­er­ally A steam­punk novel of romance, polit­i­cal intrigue, and alchemy, The Alchemy of Stone rep­re­sents a new and intrigu­ing direc­tion by the author of the critically-acclaimed The Secret His­tory of Moscow.

Review:

I’m not always a fan of books about robots, but this one seemed dif­fer­ent. Not to men­tion the cover (which prompts me to buy books more often than the blurb on the cover) is beau­ti­ful and amaz­ing. I’ve seen an alter­nate cover that I totally wouldn’t have bought the book if that was the cover I’d seen.

Mat­tie is an automa­ton, a machine, that Loharri cre­ated and made to resem­ble a woman. She has a porce­lain face, a box with her clock­work heart which must be wound by the key kept by Loharri, and resem­bles a woman in all other aspects. Her hair came from a boy who died, which plays a sub­tle under­ly­ing part in the story. Loharri cre­ated Mat­tie to be able to remem­ber things and to learn, to be intel­li­gent unlike many of the other automa­tons that are through­out the city. As time goes on Mat­tie asks to become an appren­tice to an Alche­myst and Loharri grants Mat­tie her eman­ci­pa­tion so that she can pur­sue that goal. The book starts years after Mat­tie has become an alche­myst her­self, and has a lit­tle shop of her own away from Loharri’s house, but she must visit him to have her heart wound with the key that he keeps. Mattie’s wish is to have the key her­self and free of the restric­tions placed upon her by hav­ing some­one else hold the key.

At first this is a story of Mat­tie gain­ing her free­dom, but although that under­lies the story, it is not the main point. Mat­tie is swept up in research after she is com­mis­sioned by the gar­goyles to free them from the stone that they came from and will return to as time goes on. In the begin­ning there were many gar­goyles and they called forth the stone to build the Palace and the Par­lia­ment and many other promi­nent build­ings in the city. As time has passed, the gar­goyles one by one are turn­ing back into stone and do not come to life. A for­mer alche­myst was try­ing to find a way to break the cycle and free the gar­goyles, but she died before she was able to find the answer. Mat­tie learns that the woman’s soul is with the Soul Smoker, who every­one avoids as it could steal their soul, but since Mat­tie does not have a soul to lose, she seeks him out and not only is able to speak to the dead woman through the Soul Smoker, but she also befriends him.

Through her many inter­ac­tions with the myr­iad of other char­ac­ters, you begin to for­get that Mat­tie is a machine. I found more than once that I could not only imag­ine what she would look like but how she would move and what it would be like to know her in per­son. I rooted for her at times and felt her pain after her encounter with Sebas­t­ian. It was strange and yet, fan­tas­tic. The io9.com review put it very well:

While it’s action-packed, The Alchemy of Stone is most prop­erly under­stood as a char­ac­ter study. Mourn­ful and roman­tic, Mat­tie is the mechan­i­cal, wind-up doll so many gothy teenage girls imag­ine them­selves to be. And her vul­ner­a­bil­ity haunts many adult women too: We may not have whale­bone corsets embed­ded in our skin, but we all strug­gle to be per­ceived as some­thing more than pretty lit­tle tools. It’s that strug­gle that makes Mat­tie such a vivid, mem­o­rable, and ulti­mately human character.

The story unfolds and as she works to find the answer to the gar­goyles prob­lem, she is swept up in the con­flict between the machin­ists (who essen­tially rule and con­tinue to make new inven­tions to do things that peo­ple already do) and the rest. It says a lot about our cur­rent soci­ety in that as we con­tinue to mod­ern­ize (what the machin­ists do) we push peo­ple from the world. Automa­tons replaced work­ers in the fields and farms and the peo­ple are sent to work in the mines. Car­riages pulled by lizards (remem­ber, fic­tional world) are replaced by mechan­i­cal cater­pil­lars. Yes some­times the machines help us out, but how many jobs have they replaced as well that could be done by people?

The author uses two per­spec­tives to tell the story and at first I couldn’t fig­ure out who was speak­ing other than Mat­tie, but as the story unfolds, the author uses the gar­goyles per­spec­tive to help fill in the story with things Mat­tie does not see or expe­ri­ence that would have been hard for the reader to grasp the extent of things with­out that sec­ond view­point. I didn’t find it dis­tract­ing at all, but did at times want to hear more from the gargoyles.

I won’t give away the end­ing, but I urge every­one to read this book. It is pro­found, beau­ti­ful, and one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time.

It is a book that will be added to my col­lec­tion, and those that know me well will know this is a spe­cial honor as I don’t keep books unless they are truly outstanding.

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