This is without doubt a beautifully written book. I finished it a while ago and have been mulling it over ever since, wondering what I could actually say about it without diminishing what was a truly lovely reading experience.

The Alchemy of Stone tells the story of Mattie, an automaton who has become emancipated (up to a point) and who has trained as an alchemist. It’s a dysfunctional society in which she lives, of Alchemists versus Mechanics, each with their own views on how the city should be run, and an underclass which appears to be rising up to overthrow the existing order.

Mattie treads a fine line between maintaining her independence and the need to find a way to get the thing she needs from the mechanic who made her – Loharri, who, though ostensibly letting her go, still holds the key which winds her heart.

I won’t say any more about the story itself, but it’s worth dwelling on the themes which develop within it.

This is a book about identity, what it means to be free, what it means perhaps to be a person. It’s also about class and oppression, about those who claim to know what’s best, about where women fit in to society, about the nature of difference, and about love. The quote on the cover of my edition says it better than I ever could:

A gorgeous meditation on what it means not to be human

And it has gargoyles.

And a man who absorbs the souls of the dead, who can still speak through him.

It’s steampunk at its best, with a main character of real substance, and an ending that I found moving, heart-breaking but also hopeful.

Seriously recommended. And if you’re not sure just look at Carl’s review here. Which has the wonderful cover that originally drew me to finding out about this book, though I’ve come to love the one on mine more.

I thought this was just lovely and am so glad that I was finally able to get my hands on a copy.