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This is the kind of speculative fiction that got me hooked on the genre as a teenager. Without bogging one down in pages of exposition, she creates an immersive Miyazaki-like world where magic, science and alchemy interact. The protagonist is psychologically complex and far more 'human' than any of the real humans in the novel, notably her creator Loharri. (Though you come to understand a bit of Loharri's motives through his backstory.)
The story intertwines Mattie's search for independence, the gargoyles' search for freedom from turning into stone, and a civil/class war searching for control of the city. It's part political parable--to resist ossification, the gargoyles must become, literally, vulnerable to wound and decay, just like the city they guard--as well as a questioning/meditation of what it means to be 'free': Freedom from something, or freedom to do something?
One of the things I truly admire about this book is Sedia's refusal to give the fairy tale happy-sappy group-hug ending. If you want all of your stories to end like Star Wars movies, this is not for you. If you like your stories to be readable as literature and as a really good story, much in the way of Philip K. Dick, dark and powerful and yet somehow beautiful, this book will stay in your memory far long after you finish the last page.
This was a surprise in my mail earlier yesterday - I've been trying to get a hold of this book, The Alchemy of Stone, for a little while now, and had some problems. This third book by Ekaterina Sedia was one that I was really looking forwards to reading, and it was a fun book to read - While I waited for my computer to restart, I finished the last 150 pages in about an hour.
The story follows Mattie, an intelligent automation in a world that is very steampunkish. Mattie is an alchemist, trying to discover a way to prevent the gargoyles in the city from turning to stone and dying out. They seem to predate the human inhabitants of the city, and are responsible for its construction and character. At the point in the story, the city is overcrowded, and divided. There's a political rivalry between the Alchemists and machinists, which spills over into violence with the Duke of the city and his family is attacked and killed, culminating in civil war between classes. Mattie is at the center of this, as an Alchemist, but her creator, whom she is bound to, is a fairly cruel machinist who will not let her stray too far from needing him.
This was a fun read, but not as good as I'd hoped it would be. It felt like a quick look into a vastly complex and interesting world and I didn't get the depth that I would have liked, and that easily could have been there. That being said, what I got was still a very good, engaging read. Where the story is somewhat lacking, it is made up for with the character of Mattie and the various struggles that she comes across in the story. Where most people would think of a robotic being as fairly robust and durable - watching any sort of movie about robots will tell you this - Mattie is weak, timid, and fragile, both physically and mentally.Read more ›
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Very rarely does a concept alone sell me on a book of unknown quality written by an author I've never heard of before, yet I tracked this book down based entirely on the idea of this novel.
It starts out with some promise, as the narrative slowly weaves an exposition cleverly blending technical information about the world and its inhabitants with a growing drama between the main characters. From the first chapter, I wanted to get to know the characters better; to find out the secrets behind Loharri's motivations and see what makes Mattie tick.
Unfortunately, the story never quite evolves to that point, settling for some halfhearted political rhetoric halfway through the book, culminating in a seemingly rushed and abrupt ending that tries too hard to pull off a last-minute moment of dramatic significance. I was an art major; I know it when I see it.
It almost telegraphs a thought pattern:
"Here's a colorful and diverse world of alchemy and science, teetering on the edge of conflict, populated by a number of interesting character archetypes. Let's set them in motion and see what happens. Oh wait, I don't actually know what happens. Well, let's introduce some random cardboard characters and dabble in some bland, mildly erotic scenes with all the flavor and appeal of day-old oatmeal. Nope, that didn't work. how about a sudden war, which will see all those formerly complex and fascinating characters reduced to window dressing for the last half of the novel? Sure, why not...but I don't know how to end it! Oh, pizza's here -- uh...THE END. Wait, that's not dramatic enough. THE END -- OR IS IT. Yeah, much better. Mmm, pepperoni.Read more ›
Ekaterina Sedia, The Alchemy of Stone (Prime, 2008)
I've been hearing wonderful things about The Alchemy of Stone since long before it came out, but it took me a while to track a copy down. And while it got off to something of a slow start, once it grabbed me, it didn't let go until the final page. If you haven't discovered Ekaterina Sedia yet, do so at your earliest opportunity. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Mattie is an emancipated clockwork human, an automaton whom Loharri, her maker, built with the curses of intellect and feelings. Curses because in the world where Mattie and Loharri dwell, racism is rampant, and never more so when you're the construct of a Mechanic, but you went off and joined the Alchemists. The Mechanics and the Alchemists are at an uneasy truce, but never for very long. Still, Mattie uses her association with Loharri, who is still a bit in love with her (think Pygmalion here if you hadn't been already), to gain valuable information. Eventually, Loharri, who isn't blind to the gains of having an ally among the Alchemists himself, sets Mattie up with Iolanda, his current lover, who's looking for some interesting perfumes, as well as an Alchemist good enough to pull off something that no one else has ever thought of. There is a third faction in the city, though largely forgotten: the Gargoyles, who built the city originally. They have been calcifying over the years, until now only a handful are left, and they're dying. Mattie is tasked with the ultimate job: make the Gargoyles flesh again. But not everyone is thrilled with that idea, nor with the way things are in the city...
The plot is often secondary here to Sedia's exploration of this city she has built, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.Read more ›
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