Review: The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

Book: The Alchemy of Stone
Author: Ekaterina Sedia
Publisher: Prime Books
Release date: July 4, 2008
Source: Local library

Summary: (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!

First impressions: I read the first half of this book without stopping. This world is so rich and different and mysterious that I had to keep reading to figure out what was going to happen next. If you like sci-fi or steampunk even in the slightest, you will be hooked from the get-go.

Lasting impressions: The gargoyles were fascinating. Mattie is the heart of the book, but the gargoyles are the soul. I didn’t quite understand them, but their presence was always lingering at the back of my mind. The characters and the story are dark, dirty, and complex, but definitely compelling.

Negative impressions: There were a few missteps. I wasn’t a fan of the love interest for Mattie, and the “sex” scene between them was awkward at best. I just couldn’t get into a man and machine hookup. I also had a hard time following the action at times. I don’t know if it was because I am new to the genre or if some scenes were intentionally vague, but I didn’t always grasp everything that was happening.

Overall impressions: The best way for me to describe this book is strangely beautiful. Mattie is an automaton, considered a lesser class, despite her emancipated status from her creator. She works as an alchemist and is quite good at what she does, which is what earns her a special benefactor who employs her for complex tasks. It is through this relationship that Mattie is drawn into the political upheaval happening between the alchemists, mechanics, and gargoyles in this world.

Mattie is also recruited for a task by the gargoyles, and maintains a relationship with her creator and mechanic friend, so is necessarily involved with all of these rival factions vying for control of the city. The more she’s drawn into the politics, the more involved her assignments, and eventually she has to make difficult choices about who she truly serves. The story unfolds quickly, and I finished this book in two sittings.

I thought Mattie was sweet and different, and tried to suspend my disbelief and avoid asking too many questions about how she was able to think and speak and remember (particularly when her memory becomes an important plot point later in the book). Instead, I just accepted the world as I was reading about it, and it became a really fascinating story.

This was my first exposure to steampunk, and I loved it. This tale was dark, dealing with issues of slavery, class struggles, independence, and abuse. Yet it also had touching moments between friends, and showed the value of sacrifice. Mattie has to endure cruelty and hardship, but she is self-assured and never gives up on herself. Though this certainly isn’t a book for everyone, if you’re looking for something different you should give it a try.

Rating: 4/5 stars