Review: Alchemy of Stone – Ekaterina Sedia

Published in 2008 by Prime Books, this is not a new novel, but one I discovered while doing research for an article on steampunk the other day. I’ve decided to review it anyway, because I loved it so much.

First off, I have to admit that I am a book-cover junkie. Even since I was little, I’ve loved cover design and this one is gorgeous and had me hooked right from the start – so well done publishers!

So, on to the book: This is a Coppelia-esque steampunk fable set in the imagined city of Ayona.  This is not so much a book for hard-core steampunk fans. The tone is softer, more feminine and Ekaterina Sedia writes with sumptuous engaging prose. It is a rare treat to find literary writing in this genre and the devices she uses are subtle and they work.I especially liked the way the gargoyle point if view is worked into the narrative as their broad observations balance Mattie’s slightly narrow and naive point of view beautifully.

On the first page, we meet Mattie, an emancipated automaton with a beautiful porcelain face. She lives in an interesting world which is divided along very rigid lines. On the one side, there are the Mechanics. Masculine and analytical, they run things and build things in stomping steampunk style. On the other, the alchemists. Spritual and magical they work with the natural magic found in all things. But Mattie is an odd one. Made by Loharri, and a product of a mechanic, she trained to become an alchemist. Mattie is sweet natured and intelligent, but naive and one cannot help but fall in love with her. Her observations and perplexion of the humans around her forms the compelling core of this story.

The fable begins when the gargoyles – the magical stone beings who caused the city to rise up from the stone- come to see Mattie. They are dying and they need her help. In her attempts to help these gargoyles who watch the world with cool detachment Mattie starts uncovering dangerous secrets, which hold the potential to upset the balance of power in the City.

Mattie starts making decisions on her own and this does not sit well with Loharri, her creator and the one who literally holds the key to her heart.

This is a good read. The characters stay with one once the pages are closed. The book as a solidly-constructed ending. The only gripe I have, is that the book is a bit short. I would perhaps have wanted a bit more story and more information about the world.

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