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The Alchemist's Daughter

3.25  ·  Rating details ·  4,593 ratings  ·  577 reviews
During the English Age of Reason, a woman cloistered since birth learns that knowledge is no substitute for experience.

Raised by her father in near isolation in the English countryside, Emilie Selden is trained as a brilliant natural philosopher and alchemist. In the spring of 1725, father and daughter embark upon their most daring alchemical experiment to date attempting
Paperback, 346 pages
Published October 24th 2006 by Broadway Books (first published January 31st 2006)
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Average rating 3.25  · 
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 ·  4,593 ratings  ·  577 reviews

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May 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pub-2006
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
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
May 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
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 21, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Nobody
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 17, 2008 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.
Mar 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-before-2011
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
Patricia Williams
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another really good book. I love historical fiction. The main character, Emilie, drove me crazy at some points because she made such bad, crazy decisions. But I had to remind myself that it was the time period she was growing up in and also that she had lived a very sheltered life, which could definitely happen in that time period. I did enjoy the story though and it was based on real situations, Sir Issac Newton was in the book a lot as well as others that I probably had not heard of. So, it wa ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Apr 23, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Essie Fox
May 07, 2011 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
Apr 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
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 15, 2012 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
May 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 04, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bettie by: pressie from M
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I think I enjoyed the audio narration better than the story.

There were parts of it that had real potential and did not go anywhere and others that just fell flat.
I could not really drag up any real feeling for the girl that was the main character, hated her husband, disliked her father and his servants, and could not figure out the rector at all, until the ending. I actually liked the beginning and ending of the story the best.
May 26, 2008 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Doris Pearson
Dec 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Exciting, tragic, enlightening.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Marguerite Kaye
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this, so much that I didn't want it to finish.

The Alchemist's Daughter is above all a beautifully told story, but like all of McMahon's books that I've read, it's a lot more than that. At the centre of the story is Emilie, the product of her father's experiment to raise her as a 'pure' alchemist to carry on his work. Cut off from the world, she is a first-class natural philosopher with absolutely no concept of basic things, like how to make choices, how to understand the cons
Jun 30, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I burned through this book in 24 hours.

the book is set in the 1700s, in the scientific community of that time.

The writing is rich with both sensual and scientific detail, the characters intriguing, and the time period was well-researched and very realistically presented. I found the story fascinating. I was completely wrapped up in Emilie, the main character. When we first meet her she is an isolated, brilliant but naive, young scholar/scientist. We are privileged to tag along on her journey as
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I didn't like this book much at first, but it grew on me as I kept reading, ( which I always hope for but hardly ever happens). By the end I loved the main character despite her flaws and failings because she had the courage to face herself and overcome them. I also liked that she was a whiny self absorbed bitch that took a long time to wake up. But she did! ...more
Jul 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've never read anything during this time period, and I think this one sat on my shelf for a while because I didn't think I'd like it (why did I buy it then?) but as it turns out, people in every time period ever are exactly the same, just with different devices and beliefs. Some are kind, some are horrible, some are pompous jerks, and parents love their children. Well, most of them do. ...more
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
Feb 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
McMahon created a heroine who is ahead of her time in her scientific learning, but who fails to be a well-rounded individual because of it. The limited focus of Emilie's studies has made her deficient in understanding of human motivations and interrelationships. Her experiments with alchemy intimately teach her how much she still has to learn about the essentials of life outside of the laboratory and in her personal relationships. In some ways, much fault is placed on her flawed character, which ...more
Rebecca Moll
Feb 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 2 Sep 23, 2015 11:14AM  

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Katharine McMahon is the author of 10 novels, including the bestselling The Rose of Sebastopol, which was a Richard and Judy pick for 2007. The Crimson Rooms and The Alchemist's Daughter.

Her latest book, The Hour of Separation, is our in paperback on 22nd August.

Her fiction is based on the lives of extraordinary women. She loves to explore how women in the past - but with a contemporary slant. T

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