Science of magic? Power or possession? These are the hard hitting questions I want to ponder as we hurtle towards All Hallow’s Eve. And debut author Samantha Cohoe is giving us the Halloween present we all deserve in 2020.
Thea Hope is a gifted alchemist. Raised on the elusive science by her mother, her entire life has been dedicated to unlocking the secrets for The Philosopher’s Stone. But on the edge of their greatest discovery, madness seizes her mother and she nearly destroys all evidence of their progress.
With her mother’s tattered notes, Thea runs to London, seeking aid from her father. But the alchemists curse follows her at every turn and the closer she gets to completing the process, the closer to madness she also descends. Backed into a corner, Thea has no choice but to risk her own mind or lose everything she loves.
Heading into my favorite holiday of the year, this was such a perfect read for me. It’s creepy and enchanting in equal measure, topped with a plot that had me guessing the entire time.
Thea is a lovely main character. She’s smart and driven, but isn’t immune to her emotions. Her loneliness is so poignant, it hurts at time, but even so she pushes forward, showing her inner strength and fortitude. She is very human, making flawed choices, but her character is so nuanced, that there is no clear direction or predictability for her.
And that’s one of the things I loved about this book. How no matter what decision she makes, it’s never clear it’s the right one. None of her options are good ones, and there’s a vivid reality in that. Nothing in life is ever black and white, or easy to discern, and I loved how this complicated truth was woven into Thea’s character arc and plot.
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of this book is how isolated Thea is. Every one of her relationships are tainted by alchemy and the desire for power. It makes finding her place difficult, and knowing who to trust impossible.
But even more than that, her entire character is a juxtaposition of impossibility. She’s English but is raised French during a time when both countries are poised for war. She’s a woman skilled in a science that prefers men to women––in a world that prefers the same. Her refusal to succumb to any one thing would be an amazing story of strength and fortitude. But the fact that she defies all of the boxes society, and even those closest to her put her in, makes her the exact type of fierce girl I love reading about.
Adding even more reason to love Thea, she still yearns for connection and tries to find the good in people, even when the good isn’t obvious. We see this more and more through the second half, and rather than making her seem oblivious or naive, it works to frame her as very empathetic and human. She wants to believe in more than the power of the Stone, she wants to believe in the good of humanity. And despite her mistakes, this makes her extremely likable and a heroine worth cheering for.
I also loved how the curse was handled throughout the entire story. Alchemy is an elusive science. Proven in some ways, unsatisfied in others. Everyone seeks the answer for how to create the Philosopher’s Stone, and until they can do that, they’ll never be taken seriously outside select circles.
But even amongst the believers, something as mythical as a curse feels too much like magic when they’ve convinced themselves it’s science. Add that to the fact that Thea is living in a world that seeks to discredit women at every turn. Their disbelief in her abilities, in her warnings, it all is so infuriating yet believable. Men who are willing to believe in the possibility of immortality and immeasurable wealth are unwilling to believe there could be a price.
And I think that’s a clever layer. After all, we know magic has a price, but science doesn’t. And there’s a lovely balance between questioning whether alchemy is science or magic throughout the book. Could something so wondrous, offering such enormous gifts, be science? Could it be real? But in the age when electricity feels like a sort of magic, it stands to reason people would believe anything is possible. And I loved how this murky lack of clarity was woven into the story.
Overall, A Golden Fury is a gorgeous debut. It has the right blend of science versus magic that captures the mentality of that time. Thea is a blend of smarts and determination mixed with an empathy and kindness that makes her a delight to read. The plot moves at an exceptional pace, making this a very fast read. I loved the atmosphere, the turmoil, and the real humanity written into every page. It’s a historical fantasy with heart and anyone who loves that genre will devour this book.
4 out of 5 very stabby stars!
Thank you TBR and Beyond Tours and Wednesday Books for sending me a copy and including me on this tour.
Be sure to check out the rest of the tour for more reviews, dreamcasts, mood boards, playlists, and more. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a finished copy!
In her debut novel A Golden Fury, Samantha Cohoe weaves a story of magic and danger, where the streets of Oxford and London come to life, and the curse of the Philosopher’s Stone will haunt you long after the final chapter.
Thea Hope longs to be an alchemist out of the shadow of her famous mother. The two of them are close to creating the legendary Philosopher’s Stone—whose properties include immortality and can turn any metal into gold—but just when the promise of the Stone’s riches is in their grasp, Thea’s mother destroys the Stone in a sudden fit of violent madness.
While combing through her mother’s notes, Thea learns that there’s a curse on the Stone that causes anyone who tries to make it to lose their sanity. With the threat of the French Revolution looming, Thea is sent to Oxford for her safety, to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists.
But in Oxford, there are alchemists after the Stone who don’t believe Thea’s warning about the curse—instead, they’ll stop at nothing to steal Thea’s knowledge of how to create the Stone. But Thea can only run for so long, and soon she will have to choose: create the Stone and sacrifice her sanity, or let the people she loves die.
Samantha Cohoe was raised in San Luis Obispo, California, where she enjoyed an idyllic childhood of beach trips, omnivorous reading, and writing stories brimming with adverbs. She attended Thomas Aquinas College, a Great Books college in California, and graduated with a BA in liberal arts. After studying Philosophical Theology at Yale Divinity School, she decided academia wasn’t for her.
In the midst of marriage, child-bearing, and the identity crisis that followed, she rediscovered her early love of writing and adverbs. In 2011, she moved with her family to Denver, where she currently divides her time between teaching Latin, mothering, writing, reading, and deleting adverbs.
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