There are a lot of layers to this story enabled by the nature of the protagonist. A mechanical girl – an emancipated automaton – whose freedom is “allowed” by a man of wealth and power. Her point of view, the mechanical girl’s, allows for a unique, in many ways un-biased, view of a class-based power struggle. At times the writing is noticeably detached from the events that would typically be the focal point of a comparable narrative: the assassination of a figurehead, mass destruction of the city, lives destroyed, and homes burnt to the ground. But this is the nature of the eyes we’re given to look through as the reader. It was an interesting and enjoyable way to experience this narrative, and opened up a lot of opportunities for social commentary. The over-arching issues were that of power and freedom, and Sedia wove these in with issues of gender, race, slavery, and technology (as they are woven in reality). As a result, The Alchemy of Stone is overflowing with perceptive and thoughtful quotes on social justice issues. I am always drawn to well-written thematic sentences and one that stood out was:
“Or perhaps you just think someone who doesn’t want to be your slave is aiming to be your master.”
The end of the story is unusual, which I was more surprised by than I should have been considering how unusual the entire narrative is. Either way, it caught me off guard in its abruptness and lack of satisfying closure. I’ll need more distance before settling on what I think of the ending, but I think I liked it, and if pressed, I’d guess that I’ll become more fond of the ending over time. If nothing else, the conclusion is thought-provoking and just the right amount of troubling. The Alchemy of Stone is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and that is always a good thing.