I’d already heard about Ekaterina Sedia before I read her fantastic novel, The Secret History of Moscow. When we talked about the book blog, I wanted to share The Alchemy of Stone with Weng as I wanted to hear what she had to say about Ekaterina’s work.
Since publishing The Alchemy of Stone, Ekaterina has gone on to publish House of Discarded Dreams and Heart of Iron. Here is Weng’s review of Ekaterina Sedia’s Alchemy of Stone.
Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
Published by Prime Books, 978-1607012153
Reviewed by Rowena C. Ruiz
“We scale the rough bricks of the building’s facade. Their crumbling edges soften under our claw-like fingers; they jut out of the flat, adenoid face of the wall
to provide easy footholds. We could’ve used fire escapes, we could’ve climbed up, up, past the indifferent faces of the walls, their windows cataracted with shutters; we could’ve bounded up in the joyful cacophony of corrugated metal and barely audible whispers of the falling rust shaken loose by our ascent. We could’ve
flown.” – Excerpt from Alchemy of Stone
With these words, Ekaterina Sedia introduces us to Mattie’s world: a world where Alchemists, Mechanics and Gargoyles exist side by side. A dying race, the gargoyles seek out Mattie, an alchemist, to find a solution to their problem.
Mattie is not your ordinary alchemist. She is an automaton, the first of her kind to become an alchemist. Automatons were made do menial tasks, but Mattie was given the ability to think and feel. Her creator has emancipated her, but Mattie desires to be truly free. Loharri, her creator, holds the key to her heart. Mattie desires to gain ownership of the key so she will no longer be dependent on Loharri for her existence.
Thus begins Mattie’s quest for freedom. Along the way she encounters people who help her, hinder her and use her. Throughout it all she does not lose sight of her twofold goal: the transformation that will save the gargoyles and freedom for herself.
Reading the book, I was struck at the tone of sadness that emerged. Ekaterina mourns the fact that people make judgments based on the superficial. Mattie is tolerated, even befriended, but not because she is herself. Iolande befriends Mattie because she wishes to control Loharri. To get Mattie’s support she promises Mattie the key to her heart. Niobe, a blood alchemist, teaches Mattie her secrets, but appears to have an ulterior motive in asking Mattie information about the city. Sebastian, whom Mattie loves, rejects her because she is not a human. Loharri, despite his acceptance of Mattie’s emancipation, decides in the end that she is only a machine to be used. The only person who accepts Mattie without any reservation is the Soul Smoker – an outcast himself because he houses the wandering souls of the dead.
Even the gargoyles reflect this sentiment. They are born of stone and are being transformed into stone, yet they call the people living in the city, “children of stone.” What is it they see in people that they are called thus? Perhaps it is the way they treat each other and their surroundings. In the name of progress, the Mechanics are adding machines and construction to the city. Yet they have neglected to find work for those displaced. The Stone Monks who run the orphanage for the poor and orphaned, sell the children for a price. The lucky ones are taken to be apprentices by the alchemists and mechanics. The others become child laborers in the mines, imprisoned in small cages so that their bodies become deformed. The young elite, in their hubris, assassinate the Duke of the ruling family to show their solidarity with the common man. The gargoyles, who are the city’s founders and original builders, are neglected and regarded as mere figureheads and legendary. Is it any wonder then that people are called “children of stone?”
Yet in the midst of all these, hope still shines through. As Mattie’s world transforms and changes, the playing field becomes even. Others take up the cause that she espouses and embrace Mattie’s dream of freedom.
This is the first time I’ve read Ekaterina Sedia and I look forward to reading more of her work. I would definitely recommend her work to others. The Alchemy of Stone is a thought-provoking work that forces us to examine how we treat others, not just those who are different in appearance or belief, but even the ordinary person on the street.
(Weng gave The Alchemy of Stone 4.5 charms)
*Note: The reviewed book was a purchased copy.