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A Secret Alchemy: A Novel Paperback – June 2, 2009
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“There are many twists and turns in this tale, some of them real, some of them not; together they add up to a spellbinding whole.” (London Times on A SECRET ALCHEMY)
“Emma Darwin follows up on the great success of her debut novel The Mathematics of Love with this engaging work of historical fiction…This is a work of great atmosphere and a story well told. (The Sunday Mail (Australia) on A SECRET ALCHEMY)
“A Secret Alchemy was ... absorbing, interesting, well-written, and utterly enjoyable.” (www.fyreflybooks.wordpress.com)
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Top Customer Reviews
I knew before reading this novel that the narrative was from three different prospectives--Elizabeth Wydeville, Anthony Wydeville, and modern-day historian Una Proyr--and I was looking forward to reading it. I enjoy novels with a narrative structure that expertly manages to weave the past and the present.
In my opinion, this novel did not succeed in this. I found the modern-day narrative to be far too distant from that of Elizabeth and Anthony. I found the connections between the two to be far too loosely attached, and thus found myself hurrying through the modern narrative to return back to the words of Elizabeth.
Only towards the end of the novel, when Una Proyr actually began to visit the places of Elizabeth and Anthony's story, did I feel the story begin to take shape. And yet unfortunately, by that point, I felt that it was too late.
Is slipping from a story in the past to one in the present going to be Emma Darwin's formula? Let's hope not - it worked well the first time, but in this case a soppy contemporary story with an inevitable ending jarred with the doings of royals of yesteryear.
Nevertheless, I'll read the next one, if only out of respect for her ancestor Charles.
Darwin does a nice job of crafting the voices of both Elizabeth and Anthony as well as weaving Una's struggles with her grief over the death of her husband and a surprise meeting with a man from her past. It was quite refreshing to see the Woodvilles (especially Elizabeth) portrayed in a more realistic manner and not the black hearted villains you typically find them in novels on this period from today's latest and *cough* greatest authors. I have to say the two reviewers who posted just before me have done such a darn good job of putting this book into words that I really don't have much more to add. While I didn't find it the fastest paced book, I did enjoy it a great deal nonetheless. Four stars.
Anthony's story begins with the last journey of his life: he is bound for Pontefract Castle, where he knows that the future Richard III has scheduled his execution. Elizabeth tells her story from the quiet confines of Bermondsey Abbey, to which she has retired from the court of Henry VII. Neither tells his or her life story from beginning to end; instead, they each focus on a few selected episodes, such as Elizabeth's courtship by Edward IV and Anthony's exile abroad. As a result, the cast of characters is relatively small: we meet Edward IV, Edward V, a few Woodvilles, Anthony's lover, and Elizabeth's long-time attendant and confidante. There's a cameo appearance by Thomas Malory and a couple of very brief ones by the future Richard III.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anthony's and Elizabeth's stories, and had tears in my eyes after reading both (which doesn't happen very often, especially when I know the ending). Anthony's tale, especially the love story Darwin gives him (which I found very plausible) and his terrible grief when he realizes that his charge Edward V is at the mercy of Richard III, is very moving. Elizabeth, who's so often reduced to a caricature by historical novelists, is beautifully drawn here. She's strong-minded and courageous, yet vulnerable.Read more ›
Elizabeth was married to Sir John Gray, but when he died the young widow pursued and married Edward IV; they have ten children, but when the king dies none of them take the throne as his Brother Richard acts swiftly. An earl, Anthony tries to save his nephew Ned from his fraternal uncle and get him crowned as the rightful king. Meanwhile Una turns to estate's handyman, Mark Fisher whom she has loved forever for solace.
A SECRET ALCHEMY is an interesting fiction that rotates Una's present life with fictional historian's deep look at the court dominated lives of Anthony and Elizabeth. The action is mostly off page, but ultra fans of fifteenth century royal intrigue will enjoy this fine entry somewhat overwhelmed with the details of how the Woodville siblings struggled to survive the internal battles for the throne.; which he and her sons (the Princes in the Tower) did not.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The strength of this book is the love story between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Darwin writes one of the most beautiful descriptions of married love that I have ever read. Read morePublished on November 29, 2009 by Allison M. Davis
Thanks to both my primary and secondary school teachers, The War of the Roses was one of the more inscrutable periods of European history. Read morePublished on September 5, 2009 by 114rider
A twin narrative encircles this intense drama centering on Una Pryor, a historian who travels from Sydney to London to make peace with her past, and that of siblings Antony and... Read morePublished on July 20, 2009 by Walter Hypes
Una Pryor, a historian whose scholarly life revolves around books, returns to England to sell her house and help her cousins make the final decision about the fate of the Chantry,... Read morePublished on July 10, 2009 by S. McGee