The Alchemy of Stone is a Steam Punk fantasy novel by Ekaterina Sedia. It tells the story of Mattie, a clockworkRobot Girl who must save an ancient Dying Race, navigate deadly political intrigue, and resolve an abusive relationship with her creator, all in a city ruled by borderline-Mad ScientistSteam Punk Engineers in an uneasy truce with a competing faction of Alchemists.Despite the fantasy setting and the non-human protagonist, the work is really a tragic exploration of abuse, isolation, human interdependence, and the desire for freedom.
The Alchemy of Stone contains the following tropes:
Alchemy: Obviously. However, in this work, alchemy is essentially magic, and is the force opposed to the scientific-minded Mechanics.
Bittersweet Ending: The gargoyles are freed from the stone, but are now mortal and will die someday. Mattie is free of Loharri, but her key has been lost or possibly destroyed, and she herself has deactivated for want of winding. Also a lot of people are dead and the revolution, while successfully overthrowing the existing power structure, will probably just result in a new system of oppression.
Blood Magic: Niobe teaches Mattie how to use blood in alchemy.
Just a Machine: Mattie is obviously as intelligent as any human, and is a person; but even though she is legally recognized as one (to some extent), few really respect her autonomy in practice. Even what few friends she has often act surprised to see her exhibit human emotions, and occasionally treat her with little respect.
Ludd Was Right: The work as a whole doesn't really have this moral (the protagonist is a machine, after all) but it does have some overtones of this. The Mechanics certainly don't make the city a nicer place to live. Some of their opponents who are hurt most by their policies pretty much become straight Luddites.
Magic Versus Science: The city is ruled by a guild of mechanics and a guild of alchemists (read: witches), with the two in constant conflict. Mattie gets caught in the middle as a robot who has learned to do alchemical magic.
Pinball Protagonist: For much of the novel, Mattie gets swept along by the events and other characters around her. Her seeming inability to influence the world around her, or to be seen as having an agency of her own, are major parts of the story.
Ridiculously Human Robots: Justified (well, apart from the whole "ridiculously human clockwork robot" thing). Loharri made Mattie very human because he wanted a companion, and not a mere tool or servant. The vast majority of other robots in the setting were not made for such a purpose, and are just mindless machines.
Robosexual: Played with in a symbolic way. Mattie is not physically capable of having sex, but other aspects of her mechanism take on sexual meanings for her.
She also feels "naked" when her face-mask is removed, exposing her innermost mechanisms.
Uncanny Valley: Invoked on two levels with Mattie. She unsettles humans and she is in turn unsettled by mindless automatons.
Unrequited Tragic Maiden: Mattie develops feelings for Sebastian, but after one intimate encounter Sebastian seems more embarrassed than anything and pretends it never happened.
Urban Legend Love Life: The reader is informed repeatedly that despite the fact that Loharri's scar is a little more disfiguring than romantic and that he's something of a Jerkass, he gets all the sex he wants. We only see him with one woman.