The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

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.

My Review of The Alchemy of Stone

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“She could never quite bring herself to hate him – she teetered on the brink often, never crossing over. She had learned resentment and annoyance while being with him, and cold gloating joy; but there was also contentment and sympathy, and pity and gratitude.”

“This city watches you always,” he murmured. He pulled Mattie closer, his arms wrapping about her waist and his face buried in her skirts. Mattie thought then that it was rather sad that he sought comfort by embracing a machine-the construct that was not built to give it. But she tried, and the trying threatened to rend her heart in half.

The Alchemy of Stone is a beautifully written and haunting tale about a wind-up woman who just wants to be in control of her own life.

Mattie is an automaton created by a mechanic called Loharri. He just wanted a companion to care for him and ease his loneliness but instead, he found that he had created an intelligent, self-aware and independent woman. When Mattie becomes an alchemist Loharri reluctantly allows her to leave to live her own life but he refuses to relinquish control of the key to Mattie’s heart – a literal key the automaton needs to wind herself to life.

In the world around Mattie and Loharri, the Mechanics and the Alchemists are at loggerheads with each other as they compete for control of the city. The mechanics are bringing progress, steam-powered machines and analytical computers, upsetting the balance of power between them and the alchemists and pressing the poor and the farmers into working the mines. Stone gargoyles watch over the city as the tensions escalate into bombings and rebellion.

Through all this Mattie is just trying to keep safe her little part of the world and most importantly get her key from Loharri so she can be free from being dependant on him.

“What do you want?”

“My key” Mattie answered. “All I ever wanted was my key and he has it. You can’t steal it, it is bound to him. But he can give it to you, and he won’t give it to me.”

Iolanda touched Mattie’s hand. “You poor thing,” she whispered. “I had no idea.”

“Do you understand then?”

Iolanda nodded. “Show me a woman who wouldn’t.”

The author has created a beautifully imagined gothic tinged steampunk world. The alchemist’s potions and the mechanic’s creations bring a wonderful mix of old vs new and all the tensions that come along with it. The gargoyles sit watching all the events and their commentary provides an extra layer of understanding for the readers.

I would have liked a bit more depth in the gargoyles and in exploring Mattie’s relationships with the friends that she attempts to make. I feel like these were skimmed over a bit, the story of the gargoyles especially. But what it does explore is the issue of Mattie’s independence – what it means to be a woman in control of her own life and this I think is done very well.

It’s an engaging and deeply moving read and I loved the steampunk world with the gargoyles and the mechanic’s creations and the alchemist’s potions. I already want to re-read it just to experience the beautiful writing again!

The Alchemy of Stone
Ekaterina Sedia
Steampunk
November 10th 2009
Paperback
344

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