The Alchemist's Daughter
Alchemy is big right now. It combines a whiff of spiritualism with a dose of scienceishness and leaves you feeling erudite but not too troubled by boredom. In our continued quest to marry the natural world with a search for higher meaning there are alot of people who find that alchemy suits them right down to the ground.
I have a passing interest in it because of the Harry Potter texts, which use a great deal of alchemical imagery. [The current argument is whether alchemy is employed by J.K. Rowling to be merely a style element or because Rowling is the reincarnation of Helena P. Blavatsky and using Potter to guide true seekers to God. Guess which side of the discussion I take.]
The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon is a beautifully written book. Its characters are compelling and the parts set at Selden Manor are evocative. But the book has frak-all to do with alchemy or the plot as described on the jacket flap.
At its heart the book is a tretise on feminism, childbirth and a woman's right to choose. McMahon has done a fair job of grafting the modern sensibilities about these issues onto the title character without being too strident. So any dislike I have for this book--and I do have some--should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the book's marketing team. Oh, okay. Mine too. After all, I'm the one who went into this expecting scrying mirrors and hidden secrets and high fantastical drama. Rather than being central to the plot, any alchemy is used merely as an amplifying device for the heroine's self-discovery. This is the first time I've read any book featuring magical elements that was at its heart thoroughly unmagical.
A more accurate title for the book would be Emilie And The Age Of Reason, but I suspect it wouldn't sell as well.