Tuesday, August 25

Katharine McMahon: The Alchemist's Daughter

In eighteenth century England a young woman whose mother died in childbirth is raised by her reclusive father on his isolated estate. An avid student of Isaac Newton, the man aims to turn his daughter into a brilliant natural philosopher and alchemist. She is excessively intelligent and focussed, fulfilling all of his hopes for her until one fateful summer when she meets and falls in love with a charming young merchant. For the first time in her life she lets her heart rule her head-a decision that results in her being thrust into a society her sheltered upbringing has done nothing to prepare her for.
As she, at times, painfully, learns the ways of the world she also discovers that the quiet life she led with her father, the pivot upon which her life turned, was not all she believed it to be.
It is only when dealing with the aftermath of this shattering revelation that she learns to see the world as it is and to forge herself a place in it she can be truly proud of.
I was attracted to this book by its beautiful cover art, always a risk-you know the proverb-but in this case one that paid off.
This is a coming of age story that gently unfolds in an almost languid manner. Though the behaviour of a few of the secondary characters seemed questionable at times, the naivety of the heroine and her subsequent response to the events of the book are entirely believable. Some of the twists and turns of the plot were transparent; others came as a complete surprise, more so because of the obvious routes that had at times been taken. The author manages to convey the period very well with a light touch and to avoid hiding the harsher side of the era.
The ending offers hope for the heroine’s future happiness without explicitly detailing exactly where that happiness, or future, may lie. It felt a fitting end. The story was just lovely but has left me in no fervour to seek out others of the author’s works. -Lynn

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