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The Alchemist's Daughter

3.20  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,454 Ratings  ·  472 Reviews
Dark secrets haunt the manor house at Selden in Buckinghamshire, where Emilie Selden, motherless, fiercely intelligent and beautiful, has been raised in near isolation by her father. John Selden, student of Isaac Newton, is conducting a secret experiment. He aims to turn Emilie into a brilliant natural philosopher and alchemist and fills her with knowledge while recording ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 6th 2006 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (first published 2006)
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May 25, 2011 Michael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, 2000s
Those of you who are Old School know about the original Legend of Zelda. The first game in the Zelda franchise was epic. It was badass. In my personal opinion, few games have been as awesome since.

This book is a lot like the original Legend of Zelda. Unfortunately, it is like all the crappy and stupid aspects of that game, and none of the cool ones. Witness as I extrapolate.


The main character in this book lacks personality. All of the things that sound kind of cool about her--like she knows ab
Jan 30, 2016 Carolyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
I just didn't really get into this book but trudged my way through hoping it would get interesting. It sounded interesting - beautiful, intelligent Emilie, raised in seclusion by her father to be an alchemist and natural philosopher is swept off her feet by the first handsome man she sees and exiled to London where she begins "her shocking journey to enlightenment".

However, it did not live up to the blurb. Emilie's character was flat and boring and she seemed to spend most of the novel wanderin
Katharine McMahon is an excellent example of the problem I have with modern writers. In reading (or listening to, in this case) her book I found I was transported through the ailes of a book store. One moment I was reading something out of historical fiction, then scientific theory, and then a trashy romance novel..and there lies my problem. I wish modern authors had enough imagination as to address sex scenes as they did, in this case, the 1700's. I don't mind sex in a book when I can see the n ...more
I have read a LOT of negative reviews about this book and I really don't get it. I must have horrible taste then, because I absolutely LOVED it.

Written on Feb 24, 2009 at 09:29PM

Read the Dutch translation.
Mar 26, 2008 Katie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 19, 2009 Starry rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I read halfway through this book one evening, but then it didn't seem worth finishing. The plot description made it sound like an intelligent book about an intelligent woman living/learning at the time of Isaac Newton. But the book wasn't smart and neither was the main character. The author latched onto one concept in alchemy and just repeats it (so the character can impress everyone she meets) rather than giving any additional insight into the philosophies and views of the time. In fact, the bo ...more
May 05, 2011 Kinga rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a cross between literary fiction and bodice-ripper romance. Katharine McMahon seems to be sitting over the fence, not quite sure what kind of book she wanted to write. She put her heroine in a similar position - Emilie is not quite sure if she prefers to sit in the lab and peform physical and chemical experiments or if she would rather have that dashing young man grab her and take her, take her like there is no tomorrow. This weird combination worked surprisingly well but must have ...more
Mar 31, 2008 Jamie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good read -- nice gothic feel to it, though I felt that it built to something that never really arrived.
It's strange the way some stories don't get to you. This one had everything I should love in a novel: an evocative setting, a smart heroine, an exploration of a father-daughter relationship, a touch of mystery, and of course, some romance.
But there's something that didn't click. Maybe the lack of elegance in the prose, maybe the intented-to-be well researched long descriptions of scientific experiments; but I found I didn't care a bit about Emily's fate or about the outcome of the story.
The ch
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Apr 23, 2011 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those Fascinated by the Period
I liked this story, it was a fast read, but somehow it missed being something special. It's the story of Emilie Seldon, who was raised during the time of Isaac Newton in the spirit of scientific inquiry, and, despite her sex, to be a natural philosopher--a scientist. But her father forgot to include the social--and hormonal--in his calculations. Motherless, home-schooled, without other family or friends beyond the housekeeper and never allowed beyond the bounds of the estate, Emilie is so isolat ...more
I know I'm not doing this book justice with this review. Sometimes it's difficult to say exactly what you liked about a book without talking about the specific events within the story itself. Not wanting to spoil the story for potential readers I'm going to stick to a rather vague review, my apologies.

I liked the protagonist Emilie Selden; I was curious about her relationship with her father and was eager to follow along as she recounted the events of her life and how she learned about her famil
Apr 14, 2009 Jane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was sitting out in the library's display area, so I though "ooh - great, they've recommended some historical fiction for me!" It looked promising - a girl is raised as a scientist/alchemist in her father's laboratory with the expectation that she will follow his footsteps in the field. And at first, the descriptions of their experiments and of the period were quite good. But then, this seemingly intelligent girl falls for whatever adult male falls into her path. She spends the rest of ...more
Mar 21, 2012 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, 2012
I initially feared that this novel would turn out to be a vehicle for an over-abundance of gratuitous sex, but as I progressed, I found that the explicitly erotic scenes at the start contributed to the understanding of Emily Seldon, a 19 year-old raised by her alchemist father as both a bit of an experiment and as his apprentice. Having been raised in almost complete isolation in rural 1700s England, it is no surprise that her accomplishments in alchemy and natural philosophy, and her meticulous ...more
Dec 30, 2011 Virag rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
1.5 stars
I thoroughly read up until around page 166, and after that I just skimmed through this book. It started off interesting, but there was a plot twist that I didnt expect early on, and after that the rest of the book seemed... I dunno... pointless?
Emilie, although she seemed intelligent enough when she was experimenting with her father, is one of the most clueless and helpless heroines who've ever had a book written about them. True, she was very secluded from the world because of her fat
May 30, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just finished The Alchemist's Daughter (large print version) this evening and I really enjoyed it. Katharine McMahon is a fine author; her prose zips along and I thought the story was interesting and thought provoking. Set in Buckinghamshire and London about 1725, McMahon uses her novel to explore the limitations on women's lives during the 18th century. Emilie Selden is unique: she's nineteen years old and has been educated solely by her scientifically minded father since the moment she was bor ...more
Essie Fox
May 15, 2011 Essie Fox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was entranced by this book's early chapters - it's one of those stories that really draws you in.I would recommend to any readers who enjoy fiction based in the eighteenth century - or who simply love a good plot driven romance. The writing style is vivid and filmic and Katherine McMahon has clearly done an enormous amount of research into the scientific methods described - the materials, the tools, the experiments.

There are many twists and turns of plot which revolves around a passionate love
Well: I *loved* McMahon's The Crimson Rooms, and I was delighted to find this one on audio so I could start right in. And: it's well-written, as CR is, and provides an incredibly detailed historical context, as CR does, but the main character is much less likable, and I'd say that the plot, lacking the mystery aspect of CR, drags a bit more. I do find that pacing is tricky in audiobooks, because we don't have the heft of the remaining pages to give us a sense of where we are, but I still think t ...more
Feb 16, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this!

Ok, it had its faults. The bits about the alchemy process and scientific research were boring and way too detailed and I had to skim through them a bit. No I do not care how many times the dittany and saltpeter had to be ground with an infusion of... yeah whatever. Emilie really annoyed me at times, the way she was so clueless about the obvious wastrel Aislabie and powerless to resist to his wiles, and generally unable to read people. It frustrated me that she couldn't tell
Paola (A Novel Idea)
Rating: 3/5

Alchemy: to transform what is known, to turn lead into gold, to bottle fire and distill change. This is all that Emilie Selden has ever known, for she has lived on the grounds of Selden Manor since she was born, apprentice to her alchemist father. It is the age of the Enlightenment, when Sir Isaac Newton first orders the world within the constraints of his scientific method, when exploration and experimentation can be tasted on the air itself. Emilie and her father operate like clockw
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Emilie Selden, the alchemist's daughter, is raised in isolation on a remote manor, to be a sort of scientific amanuensis to her father, as well as an experiment in and of herself. Over the course of Katharine McMahon's The Alchemist's Daughter, we learn that her father, though well-meaning, has deprived Emilie of some essential tools of survival (such as any insight into actual people) as well as having hidden the deepest secrets of her past. Emilie fa ...more
Mar 22, 2009 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the first time that I have read a book and hated it the entire time, but couldn't put it down. The book is set around the time of Isaac Newton's death and the main character prides herself on being forward and thinking in "a new, unbinding direction" yet she lives and breathes completely in the past. Besides having problems with the main character, the storyline takes somewhat predictable turns yet I still found it entertaining to read. My suggestion to has very adult undertones ...more
Heather Lei
Parts were really very good. But it was a bit too romancy for my taste. The main character is an sheltered young woman who gets seduced. That part I'll buy. But when he constantly does things she doesn't like, she confronts him, he laughs at her and starts kissing her and she she forgets her legitimate concerns because she is overcome with passion, my disbelief becomes unsuspended.
If someone wants to tear down my home, destroy all the things that connect me with my family and turn everyone in m
Abigail Thompson
I kept thing it would get interesting, it was always on the verge....
Silver Petticoat
Read this review and others at The Silver Petticoat Review: The Alchemist's Daughter

Review by Elinor Cackett

The Alchemist’s Daughter is a historical novel by Katherine McMahon about love, awakening and alchemy set in 1725, England. The central character is enigmatic Emilie Selden raised by her father, a brilliant if misguided scientist who has fascination with alchemy. It is summer and the two are carrying out experiments into Phlogiston, a theoretical substance believed at the time to be produc
April Mitchell
Sep 07, 2014 April Mitchell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprised at all the bad reviews of this as I really enjoyed it. The protagonist Emilie can be very frustrating and clueless but that is kind of the point. It is a coming of age story and shows how she grows and matures as she learns more about life. Her father was a very interesting character. Such a good man but flawed in his approach of keeping his daughter so isolated from the outside world that she cannot see through the false exterior of Aislabie. Yet feelings of being restricted as well a ...more
Doris Pearson
Dec 25, 2014 Doris Pearson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exciting, tragic, enlightening.
Mar 20, 2014 Robin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I stumbled onto this book at the library and liked it immediately. The narration was dark but interesting, evoking sights and smells that sent me right into the 18th century. The 1st person pov didn't bother me because I found Emilie's voice to be authentic and consistent throughout the novel. She is an intelligent girl with a story to tell and I got wrapped up in her story from the first page.

I do not agree with so many other reviewers who found her to be "unidimensional." I found her to be co
Stephani Martinez
It was an easy read, and I did enjoy the language. I'm tired of finding heroins with the same problems. I feel as though authors think women only find resolution in the following three categories: love, sex, or children. I want to see a woman empowered in circumstance who commands a certain amount of respect from the beginning...alas, I digress.

Its really a good story, I just am taking my reading angst out on this particular novel.
Nov 22, 2015 Bonnie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I should have looked at the reviews and ratings before I checked this out. I'm not sure why I couldn't really feel any enthusiasm for this book. As soon as Emilie Selden fell for a young man who came to learn more about alchemy from her father I knew things couldn't turn out well. There was a lot of stuff about alchemy mixed with a lot of bodice ripping. In reference to the bodice ripping I totally agree with Sadie's review. Too many modern writers appear to think that they have to include expli ...more
Rebecca Moll
Mar 05, 2016 Rebecca Moll rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have turned over this book numerous times, yet just recently commited to reading. Part of the title piqued my interest, alchemist. A former chemist, I was curious about the thinking behind alchemy, not inseparable from the time period and emerging understanding of science and our world during the early 1700's.
However, in considering the title, one must remember a sum of the parts does equal the whole and must include the word Daughter.
The Alchemist's Daughter is a love story of man and natur
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 1 Sep 23, 2015 11:14AM  
  • Jerusalem
  • Brookland
  • A Factory of Cunning
  • The Perfect Royal Mistress
  • Circle Of Pearls
  • The Innocent (War of the Roses, #1)
  • The Queen's Dollmaker
  • The Book of Fires
  • Lady's Maid
  • The Thief Taker
  • Dancing With Kings
  • The Mathematics of Love
  • The Burning Times
  • The Fool's Tale
  • Wicked Company
  • The Remedy
  • A Mortal Bane (Magdalene La Batarde, #1)
  • The Scandal of the Season
Katharine McMahon is the author of 9 novels, including the bestselling The Rose of Sebastopol, which was a Richard and Judy pick for 2007.

Her latest book, The Woman in the Picture, a sequel to The Crimson Rooms, is published in July 2015.

She combines writing with judicial work - she's a magistrate and serves as a Judicial Appointments Commissioner, and with teaching.

Read her blog at http://katha
More about Katharine McMahon...

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“Do you mind telling me what you pray?"
"I pray for the wisdom to find meaning in the . . . her death."
"And have you?"
"No, Mrs. Aislabie, I find no meaning. But perhaps that's because I'm too small to see a plan so large I rarely get anything but a brief glimpse of it.”
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