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The Alchemy of Stone Paperback – January 5, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Sedia's evocative third novel, a steampunk fable about the price of industrial development, follows Mattie, an emancipated automaton, as her home city is rent by conflict between alchemists and the mechanics whose clanking, steaming inventions are changing society. Though created by a leader of the mechanics, Mattie chose to join the alchemists, but her creator still holds the key that winds her up. When a terrorist bombing and an assassination touch off all-out war between the two factions, she discovers the ugly secrets and exploitation that keep the city supplied with food and coal. Sedia's exquisitely bleak vision deliberately skewers familiar ideas from know-it-all computers to talking statues desperate for souls, leaving readers to reach their own conclusions about the proper balance of tradition and progress and what it means to be alive. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Prime Books (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607012154
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607012153
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #798,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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The attributes of robots that are usually emphasized in fiction are super-human strength, speed and intelligence. That’s why it is curious to find a story that exposes the fragility of machines and their reliance on humans for maintenance.

The Alchemy of Stone is set in a steampunk city on the brink of a civil war, and divided between past and future, poor and rich, science and magic, represented by the factions of the Mechanics and Alchemists. The protagonist Mattie is an emancipated robot that works as a alchemist, so she is truly divided between these worlds of science and magic.

Although Mattie is emancipated, her creator still insists in holding the key to her heart, and she needs him to literally wind her up like a clock, as well undergo minor repairs, like when she breaks her porcelain face, loses an eye, etc. It reminded me of a destructive relationship that the victimized party can’t seem to escape.

The problem I had with the book is that I had a deep antipathy towards the heroine, who was a bit of a drama queen for my tastes. All the human struggle was lost to me as the omniscient narrator got into looong rambling about what the lady felt or didn’t feel. Things got worse when Mattie got involved with a renegade mechanic. A love that culminates in one of the most bizarre sex scenes I have read, as the romantic interest circled with his tongue her – in this case very literal – keyhole.

The book does bring some very interesting ideas in the world creation front. Several fantasy elements are thrown into the steampunk setting. The city is guarded by living gargoyles that are turning to stone because of a plague, and their monologues bring a sense of decadence, sadness and end of a culture.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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