Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon

Title: The Alchemist's Daughter
Author: Katharine McMahon
Genre: historical fiction

Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Publishing Date: October 24th 2006
Paperback: 352 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand Alone

Summary: (from Goodreads)
There are long-held secrets at the manor house in Buckinghamshire, England, where Emilie Selden has been raised in near isolation by her father. A student of Isaac Newton, John Selden believes he can turn his daughter into a brilliant natural philosopher and alchemist. Secluded in their ancient house, with only two servants for company, he fills Emilie with knowledge and records her progress obsessively.In the spring of 1725, father and daughter begin their most daring alchemical experiment to date - they will attempt to breathe life into dead matter. But their work is interrupted by the arrival of two strangers: one a researcher, the other a dazzling young merchant.

During the course of a sultry August, while her father is away, Emilie experiences the passion of first love. Listening to her heart rather than her head, she makes a choice. Banished to London and plunged headlong into a society that is both glamorous and ruthless, Emilie discovers that for all her extraordinary education she has no insight into the workings of the human heart. When she tries to return to the world of books and study, she instead unravels a shocking secret that sets her on her true journey to enlightenment.


Emilie has lived under the watchful eye of her father all her life and has essentially zero knowledge of the world beyond the small town of Selden. In fact, to say Emilie leads a sheltered life would be the understatement of the year. While Emilie may know about books and numbers, when it comes to men or flashy baubles she’s completely clueless. So when a handsome young man in a fancy embroidered waistcoat comes visiting one day, it’s no surprise that Emilie is swept away at first glance.

And of course this doesn’t work out too well.

I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking when I decided to check out this book, but The Alchemist's Daughter was a lot different then what I had hoped for. While the book itself wasn’t bad, the story had far too much introspective waffling on the part of Emilie and not enough alchemy. As I was reading I kept waiting for something to happen and yet very little actually did. While it was interesting to watch Emilie grow throughout the story, the plot was lacking.

This book also had some cohesion issues. At first I felt like I was reading a historical fiction based on scientific ideas, but then the book morphed into a standard historical romance novel. Then the story would go back to the science and then back to the romance. Instead of being a seamless transition between all these elements, the story felt very disjointed.

This book also reminded me of why I dislike historical romance so much. I just can’t get behind the idealization of certain time periods for women. This book shows some of the obvious flaws with women not having any say in their own lives and I just don’t get how that appeals to anyone.


I liked the writing style but the book was pretty standard.

Rating: 5. Blah – essentially neutral

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