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The Alchemist's Daughter: A Novel Hardcover – January 31, 2006

41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A child of the English Age of Reason learns lessons of the heart in McMahon's fifth historical, her first published in the U.S. Like Philippa Gregory, she mixes historical accuracy with a heroine modern at heart if not in outward appearance. It's 1727, and 19-year-old Emilie Selden, cloistered since birth at Buckinghamshire's Selden Manor, is docile under the iron rule of her domineering father, John, a scientist by reputation and an alchemist by calling. Under his stern tutelage, Emilie, who narrates, studies nature using the same methods used by their hero, Sir Isaac Newton. While on the verge of formulating her own theory of air and fire, Emilie meets two men: Thomas Shales, a clergyman and natural philosopher who alienates John Selden as much through his regard for Emilie as through his disregard for alchemy, and Robert Aislabie, a London adventurer who calls at Selden Manor to gain the father's secrets and ends up taking the daughter's heart. Father and daughter soon learn that love and loss cannot be kept in the confines of the laboratory. McMahon highlights social turmoil through Emilie's maid, Sarah, and intellectual conflict at the Royal Society, including a memorable evocation of Newton's funeral. Emilie's voice is clear, and McMahon doesn't shy away from the Enlightenment's darker sides, giving this popular historical a satisfying gravity. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Historical fiction lovers will find themselves swept up in McMahon's gripping tale of a young woman whose learning is at odds with her heart in eighteenth-century England. Emilie Selden has been raised to be a scientist by her reserved, brilliant father He's made her his apprentice in his studies of chemistry, physics, and even alchemy, and although she loves both her father and her studies, she is pulled in another direction when one day handsome young Robert Aislabie arrives on the Seldens' doorstep, purportedly looking for scientific information. He leaves with Emilie's heart, and the two begin a secret courtship that results in Emilie becoming pregnant. When her father finds out, he refuses to speak to her, although he does allow her to marry Aislabie. Emilie's initial bliss soon wears off when she loses the child and discovers Aislabie is not what he seems. Her troubled marriage leads her back to Selden Manor, where she discovers the truth about her own past and has an emotional awakening. An involving, moving tale. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (January 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307238512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307238511
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,800,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Katharine McMahon is the author of 8 novels, including the bestselling The Rose of Sebastopol. She's always combined writing with some form of teaching - English and Drama in schools supporting students in their writing. Her great love, beyond writing books, is the stage - both as a member of the audience and performing in her local theatre. She lives with her family in Hertfordshire.

Twitter: Katharine McMahon@McKatharine

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 49 people found the following review helpful By T. L. Tuttle on April 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Part of what makes reading wonderful is that there can be divergent opinions of the same book; such is the case here, I'm surprised to say. Usually I find I agree with the majority in the reviews given here on Amazon, but not so in this case.

I find historical and period fiction are joys to read, particularly when plot and history combine with excellent research and writing talent to transport the reader to another time. With The Alchemist's Daughter, I felt that most of the pieces were in place for a winning read - the book was beautifully written, the research was deep and thoughtful. I expected a book of heft and intrigue, but was shocked to instead find a thinly-disguised romance novel with a plot that was both tiresome and predictable. I found the characters were mostly half-sketched, stereotypical, one-dimensional and dislikable to a fault. There were several points where I digustedly closed the book; though I did manage to reopen it and finish.

My gentle recommendation would be for those readers looking for historical fiction of a wee bit weightier variety to turn to The Other Boleyn Girl, The Crimson Petal and The White, Year of Wonders or any of Margaret George's fine books in lieu of this frothy, somewhat irritating eye-roller.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bookphile TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is one of the most gothic I've ever read and it's done extremely well. I've always considered Jane Eyre to be the pinnacle of gothic and I have to say that this book is very successful in being nearly as atmospheric as that work. I really felt like I was transported into Emilie's world. This was, for me, the high point of what is a well-written and engrossing novel, even though I figured out some of the plot revelations well before the author wrote about them.

Emilie is an interested and rather complex character. I'm not sure I exactly sympathized with her. I certainly found her situation sympathetic and I thought the constraints with which she was raised were very harsh. Still, she at times acts so irrationally that I found it hard to relate to her. She's certainly the type of person who's extremely intelligent and yet very much lacking in common sense--which only stands to reason when considering the fact that she is isolated from nearly all society throughout her whole life. Still, there were times when I wondered if she had a brain in her head and she was often far too passive for my liking. She seemed so detached from her circumstances that I think this is why I couldn't really relate to her. I'm not sure if this was intentionally done but it actually works given the setting of the novel. I didn't necessarily like Emilie but I didn't dislike her either and I found her story extremely compelling.

What also interested me about this novel was the author's unvarnished look at the times in which Emilie lived. I liked how she stripped away the sparkling veneer or society and showed how shallow and indifferent the rich often were to the plight of the poor.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By tregatt on February 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Unfortunately, a great many books are released each month, all clamouring (whether they merit it or not) for attention, so that it is rather easy for out of the ordinary gems to be missed. Such, sad to say, is the case of Katherine McMahon's "The Alchemist's Daughter." McMahon's novel was a fantastic and absorbing read -- I was absolutely riveted, and if you're looking for something fresh, and a little different from the usual, I'd really recommend you try "The Alchemist's Daughter" -- it's worth the hardcover price!

While Sir John Selden has spent a lot of time and effort on his only daughter's, Emilie, scientific education, he has, unfortunately, also brought her up in seclusion on his estate in Buckinghamshire. This, of course leaves Emilie vulnerable to the manipulations and influence of others. So that, when a dashing adventurer, Robert Aislabie, comes calling just around the time when Emilie's raging hormones are at their height (she's reached her seventeenth birthday), she finds herself quite vulnerable to Aislabie charms. Going against her father's wishes, Emilie insists on marrying Aislabie and leaves her father's home in order to live with her new husband in London. But, in spite of all its noise and liveliness, Emilie soon finds herself feeling out of place in London and with her husband's friends -- her wonderful education seems not to have prepared her for London's dazzling society. Intimidated and numbed by all she sees and is experiencing, it will be a while before Emilie removes the blinders from her eyes, realises who and what she is and so, become the woman her father always hoped she would be...
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Snowbrocade VINE VOICE on September 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In the early 1700's alchemy was still quite popular, in particular due to one of its most famous proponents, Sir Isaac Newton. At their estate in the English country side, Emilie and her father John Selden perform regular alchemical experiments and other investigations into the natural world. Emilie becomes slowly aware that she is one of her father's experiments--a child raised performing alchemical research.

Emilie's sheltered intellectual upbringing leaves her vulnerable to the seduction of one of the few young males that she has met. She leaves her father under the influence of sexual awakening and enters marriage without knowing her husband. Her father dies shortly after leaving many mysteries. Emilie has to learn quickly how to take care of herself in an era that oppresses females despite their intellectual prowess.

Alchemist's Daughter provides a tantalizing glimpse into the world of alchemy, as well as the culture of the early 1700's. The theme of how an individual develops emotional maturity as a balance to intellect is nicely portrayed. In a sense this novel is the opposite of a romance--the protagonist marries early on and in fact the goal is to escape the influence of the men in her life in order to develop as an individual.

Despite an overall promising novel as far as writing, historical details and plot, the impulsive protagonist is somewhat one-dimensional--she lacks the psychological complexity that would make the book substantial. Worth reading but not a classic!
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