Review of The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (SPOILERS)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This story engaged me from the first paragraph all the way through to the last. It sucked me in, and I found myself wanting to read more.
I liked the main character, the automaton Mattie, but from the get-go, I either disliked or was ambivalent toward most of the other characters with the exception of Niobe and the soul-smoker.
With only one exception that I can think of, all the other characters in the book only wanted to use Mattie to further their own selfish goals. The gargoyles wanted her to find a cure for their affliction. Iolanda wanted Mattie’s access to Loharri. Loharri created Mattie and wanted her to be a combination (sex) toy/companion/housekeeper. The soul smoker wanted her around because she was the only one he could talk to given that she was immune to the effects of his “profession.” Beresta’s ghost wanted Mattie to find her son, Sebastian. Niobe befriended Mattie because she was the only one who would talk to her, and then used her knowledge to gain favor with Iolanda.
Only Sebastian seemed to want nothing from Mattie, but he was disturbed or perhaps disgusted by what she wanted to give to him, and was driven away.
Mattie’s emancipation was a cruel joke. She was emancipated in name only, but still remained a mere tool to be used by everyone in her life. Perhaps the cruelest twist of all was that her programming required her to return to her creator periodically even though she came to despise him.
In the end, Mattie got nothing in return for all that she did except for the gargoyles’ (futile) attempts to find her key so she could be revived. But revived for what?
I’m sure I could go on about the metaphors, blatant and not, that are explored in this book. But I won’t, because that’s not why I enjoyed it.
As I said, I very much enjoyed the book in spite of what sounds like a very negative review above. The writing is very good, and I thought the world in which the story took place was interesting enough that I’d like to see more of it, but perhaps this microcosmic view is all we should see.
Because the story wasn’t about plot/events. It wasn’t about settings. It was about Mattie. And I liked her character. A lot.
I was at first disappointed by the ending, but now that I reflect on it, I’m glad Sedia didn’t pander to the readers who only want ‘happy’ endings. The way this book ended was far more realistic, in my opinion, especially given the tone of the rest of the story. Sometimes, you don’t get what you want OR what you need.
I couldn’t care less about the politics or the other events that are going on in the background of the story. In that respect, this book reminds me a small bit of the movie “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” in which two minor characters from Hamlet wander around for our amusement while “Hamlet” takes place in the background. In the big picture of the political upheavals and the revolution going on, Mattie is a tiny speck of insignificance. But by focusing on her life and having her take center stage, Sedia relegates the important world events to mere background window dressing.
And I kind of like that. :)
This story will stick with me for a long time, I believe.