From the beginning, the rich detail of The Alchemy of Stone, by Ekaterina Sedia draws you into a tale of a city once ruled by a duke, now divided between Mechanics and Alchemists, and always, always watched over by gargoyles. Our heroine, Mattie is an intelligent automaton and as her city goes through a wrenching upheaval, her loyalties are divided between many forces. Her creator, Loharri, is a Mechanic, but he emancipated her so she could pursue her dream of becoming an Alchemist. She is so successful, she receives a commission from the gargoyles to free them from the necessity to turn to stone.
Mattie herself is very human, with all her five senses engaged, sometimes lost in bewildering thoughts as she learns to deal with her emotions. And she is intriguingly mechanical: the coolest part is her enhanced vision, in eyes she can retract and extend at need. She is most inhuman, and most vulnerable, when she breaks down or winds down or is simply shut down for repairs.
The mechanical creatures that clank through the streets lend a steampunk coloration to the book. And like The Secret History of Moscow, reading it feels like watching a Mizayaki movie, but this one is closer to the mittel European setting of Kiki’s Delivery Service. To get a sample, you can read the first chapter in this excerpt.
In an inverse of the 150 page rule, that’s about the point where I decided I was ready to finish the book that night. A lovely book.