Monday, 21 July 2008

The Alchemy of Stone - a book review

Ekaterina SediaThe Alchemy of Stone was my introduction to steampunk and a very enjoyable introduction it was too. Ekaterina Sedia writes beautifully and there is a kind of wistful sadness to this book that did not at all fit my preconceived notion of what steampunk was. But then again, it is probably unique to this particular novel.

The Alchemy of Stone is the story of Mattie, a liberated sentient automaton (with built-in hoop skirts!) who earns her living as an alchemist, a calling that is a weird blend of magician and scientist. She feels her non-humanness acutely, not like Pinocchio longing to be a "real" boy, but wanting to be accepted for what she is. It is a lyrical, haunting story of what it means to be marginal, especially in a time of social upheaval. For revolution is brewing...

As befits steampunk, the world in which Mattie lives is roughly reminiscent of Victorian society, but it does not correspond to any identifiable time or place that actually exists. Living gargoyles, sentient automatons, slave labour, and mistreated orphans all rub elbows in this strange place. One of Mattie's strengths, and therefore one of the book's strengths, is her willingness to consider things from all points of view, and her almost total lack of prejudice. This is not to say that she is entirely objective, for she has emotions, knows pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow. She does commit to a side, both in her personal life and in the revolution and must pay the price.

I recommend The Alchemy of Stone highly. Ekaterina Sedia is an author to watch, and I will be checking out her other books.

Thanks to Larry of the OF Blog, who hosted a giveaway of a signed ARC of the book, and of course, to Ekaterina herself, who graciously sent it.)

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Jared said...

On my list! I also just finished (and recommend) Court of the Air, by Stephen Hunt.

Welcome to the genre!

Janet said...

I didn't know you were an aficianado. In that case, you'll be properly jealous that I got a signed ARC. Gotta love blog giveaways.

ORION said...

Steam punk - this sounds wonderful...


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