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Review: The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

>>Saturday, April 24, 2010

Title: The Alchemy of Stone
Author: Ekaterina Sedia
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 293
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk
Publication Date: April 12th, 2008
Publisher: Prime Books
Rating: 7.5

From Goodreads: 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.

Why did I read this book? The is the April Challenge for Calico Reaction's Book Club!

Source: Library

My Review
Warning! Some spoilers about the ending.

I had one of the most engaging experiences when I opened this book and started the tale of Mattie the automaton; I don't remember when I last felt immediately drawn into a world so seamlessly. Sedia's writing is beautiful and it made me feel very nostalgic (whether that's on purpose, I don't know).

Sedia creates a steampunk city and populates it with Mechanics who engineer automatons and other contraptions, the Alchemists who deal with those of flesh and bone (a fine line), and the Gargoyles. I really loved, in particular, the use of alchemy as a major subject because it really sets the darker tone of the book for me (such as the homunculus). Mattie herself was my favorite part of the book. She's an automaton but she is so real and so endearing that I really attached myself to her. I wanted her to succeed, to be happy, even though she's a machine. I wish more of her past and creation were revealed.

I felt that near the end of the book that the charm of the book slowly dissipated perhaps because of the fact that the political plot catches up with Mattie and everything is thrown into chaos in her world. Mattie herself wants the world to go back to how it was, to the simpler time before the interference of the Mechanics and Alchemists. I almost think this was done this way for us to feel the same as Mattie, that things aren't quite right and we wish we could go back to the beginning.

I also noticed the irony in how Mattie succeeds at changing the gargoyles into mortals only to find herself turned to "stone" from the loss of her key. The gargoyles say they will search for it until they die and that was made possible by Mattie herself. In many ways I find the ending sad because I hoped that Mattie would succeed, that there would be something more. Instead, it's as if the whole story was just a brief glimpse into the lives of these characters and that we were only meant to watch for a short time, wishing we had the key to Mattie so we could wind her up again and continue the journey.

Rating: 7.5
Finally, I did enjoy the book. It was a quick read and intriguing and I believe I will remember it for a while. There are some weak elements but overall I think the creativity and characters made up for those shortcomings.

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