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Literature: The Alchemy of Stone

The Alchemy of Stone is a Steam Punk fantasy novel by Ekaterina Sedia. It tells the story of Mattie, a clockwork Robot 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 Scientist Steam 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:

  • Abusive Parents: Mattie's creator, Loharri.
  • Aerith and Bob: Mattie, Niobe, Sebastian... Ilmarekh.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Loharri likes to pet Mattie's hair.
  • 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.
  • Blue Blood: The Duke and his court.
  • Break the Cutie: Mattie begins the story with a lot of hope that she can make a difference...
  • Clock Punk
  • Clockwork Creature: Mattie.
  • Corrupt Church: The whole order of the Stone Monks went awry a long time ago.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: The memory of the dead boy who provided Mattie's hair continues to haunt Loharri.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Averted. Well, the main character is a machine, and she does angst, and supernatural powers certainly are involved...
    • But generally, though she does have to face a lot of problems, everything that happens to her is consistent and makes sense within the story.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Mattie's entire story is this question. Unfortunately, the people around her always seem to explicitly or implicitly tell her "yes."
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Mattie and her key.
    • Eventually made quite explicit.
  • Dying Race
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Mattie was built to be one.
  • Every Scar Has A Story: Loharri's scar is pretty much just there to symbolize his Freudian Excuse abusive childhood. He cut his own face so he wouldn't be beautiful anymore.
  • Eye of Newt: Found in Mattie's lab, and useful for Alchemy in general. Well, eye of sheep, actually...
  • Eye Scream: With Mattie's mechanical eyes.
  • Fantastic Racism: Though fairly close to Real Life in some cases.
  • Fembot: Mattie is somewhere between this and Robot Girl.
  • Freudian Excuse: Loharri's upbringing.
  • Functional Magic: Alchemy works this way.
  • Gotter Dammerung
  • Harmful to Minors: The orphanage.
  • Healing Potion: Mattie can make these, amongst other things.
  • Hive Mind: The gargoyles.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Though she is quite human in many ways, Mattie definitely has her own way of seeing the world. The Gargoyles provide an even more alien perspective.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Mattie.
  • 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.
  • Land of One City: Ayona is a city-state.
  • 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.
  • Mad Scientist: The Mechanics.
  • 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.
  • Master Computer: The Mechanics build a Steam Punk version of this.
  • Mind Rape: Loharri built Mattie's mind, and he doesn't tell her everything about what he put in it for his own ends...
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: The Soul Smoker
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Mattie was made with a built-in corset to give her an attractive shape.
  • Our Homunculi Are Different
  • Our Souls Are Different
  • 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.
  • Punk Punk
  • Rape Is Love: Mattie and her key and Loharri — done in a symbolic way, and used to illustrate how abusive Loharri is.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized
  • 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.
  • Robot Girl: With some Fembot mixed in.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Used on a very personal level at one point.
  • Spider Tank: A Steam Punk version makes an appearance.
  • Squishy Wizard: Mattie is an accomplished alchemist, but physically she is very delicate and not made to fight.
  • Steam Punk
  • 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.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?
  • Your Soul Is Mine: Subverted. The Soul Smoker is very much a sympathetic character.


The Alchemaster's ApprenticeFantasy LiteratureAlif the Unseen
The Alchemaster's ApprenticeLiterature of the 2000sAlex Rider

alternative title(s): The Alchemy Of Stone
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