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The Alchemist's Daughter

3.19 of 5 stars 3.19  ·  rating details  ·  3,252 ratings  ·  451 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 January 31st 2006)
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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
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 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Exciting, tragic, enlightening.
It’s 1725 in the English countryside, and Emilie Selden is a strange woman in comparison to her female contemporaries. Her father has raised her to be something of an anomaly among women- a highly curious, highly intelligent natural philosopher and alchemist. While he has prepared her for a life of experimentation and engendered in her an unquenchable desire for knowledge of the world, he did little to prepare her for interacting with young men. Her naiveté in matters of the heart leads her down ...more
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.
(3.5 stars) Emilie Selden, living in early 18th century England, grows up motherless, living somewhat secluded with her father in their rural manor house. Her father, a philosopher/alchemist, raises her to follow directly in his footsteps, neglecting to educate her in basic social skills. Thus, when one day a young stranger comes to visit, she is swept off her feet & leaves her father to follow the young man to the much more colorful, action-filled London scene. She quickly realizes she is i ...more
An interesting read, but not really what I expected. I was thinking this would be more of a coming of age and empowerment type story, but it kind of breezes through the growing up part and settles itself in a rather depressing part of this girl's life. It pretty much bummed me out through most of it.
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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...
The Rose of Sebastopol The Crimson Rooms Footsteps Season of Light The Woman in the Picture

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