The Alchemy of Stone
by Ekaterina Sedia
Trade Paperback – $14.95
Reviewed by Superwench83
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia introduces us to a world where the class lines are set in stone–in some cases literally. There are the Alchemists, whose draughts can heal and hurt; the Mechanics, whose engineering feats perform countless tasks and propel the city dwellers through the streets; and there are the gargoyles, who brought the city into being long ago and are in danger of becoming one with those buildings as their bodies become unmoving stone. The gargoyles believe that Mattie, an automaton and an Alchemist, can help them thrive once again. And there are others in the city’s shadows and hidden places who seek Mattie’s help as well.
As an automaton, Mattie had never belonged to a social class until she was freed and joined the Alchemists’ ranks. Unlike other automatons, Mattie can think and feel. Her maker, Loharri, has given her the ability to perceive both pleasure and pain, and he is often the cause of both. Imbued with such humanity but not part of that race, Mattie’s life is full of longing, of unfulfilled dreams, and of knowing she will never truly belong. Her one true aspiration is to win complete freedom from Lohari, who controls whether she lives or dies with the key to her clockwork heart. When a mysterious aquaintance of Loharri’s hires Mattie to mix her a potion, she sees this as an opportunity to take the key from Loharri and finally control her own destiny.
Ekaterina Sedia does a good job of making Mattie seem human, of displaying the many ways in which she is human despite her metal form. Mattie has all the emotions and desires of any other woman. She even has a woman’s sensibilities, show in one scene where she has to hold her skirts up to hurry after someone, and is self-conscious about the scandal of exposing her legs. A sympathetic and endearing character, Mattie experiences a range of emotions which many of the humans in her life seem to be without.
The Alchemy of Stone has a beautiful literary style and a plot full of intricacies. It’s an intriguing read, and it manages to make fresh the story of a robot who is human at heart. Reading scenes detailing Mattie’s scant romantic encounters with humans is a little strange, but these scenes further demonstrate how Mattie’s desires will never be in communion with her body of metal and porcelain and springs.
The Alchemy of Stone is a little…melancholy for my tastes, but a worthwhile read nonetheless, and I think a number of you would enjoy it. A well-written steampunk novel, this book will appeal to those who like a literary style in their genre fiction and who don’t mind endings which are bittersweet.