A Golden Fury is a gothict alternate universe novel that provides plenty of twists and turns as our 17 year old heroine attempts to create the impossible: the philosopher’s stone. The tone is heavy to the point where most of the read is dreary. Characters spend most of the book fighting with or distrusting each other, everyone betrays someone else at some point in the book, and it’s hard to like a heroine whose sole composition is bitter, angry, and a poor decision maker.
Story: In a France very much like the 1790s, the country teeters on revolution and alchemists are considered fantasists at best, swindlers at worst. Thea’s beautiful mother is brilliant and has used her alchemical skills to create armor for the King of France. But she is obsessed with making the philosopher’s stone and goes through patrons like water. She has carefully molded Thea to be the perfect assistant to that end, focusing all her parenting in developing a daughter with all the tools to find the secret formula and make the philosopher’s stone. But what mother and daughter did not predict is the curse preventing it from being made: a madness so terrible it imprisons the mind in a hellish world of torment. Thea will have to survive on her own strengths and merits in order to survive her mother’s madness and the frenzy of others also trying to get their hands on her mother’s secrets.
I had a hard time getting into the plot or really liking the main character. She spends most of the book being assaulted, arguing, or doing fairly foolish actions out of pride. The romance felt tacked on and unbelievable and there isn’t really a single redeeming character in the book. There’s no one you really want to root for, even though several characters do go through a bit of a very unbelievable redemption arc (the transformations happen too quickly and without any apparent reason or trigger). I also felt that had Thea tried to at least be pleasant and less stubborn or prideful, things would have gone very differently.
Thea herself spends a chunk of the book fighting with her mother or others, being physically assaulted (choked, head butted against a wall, etc.), or being manipulated. As a character, she feels immature, overblown, and subject to rash decisions. I felt the book really needed to offset the dreariness and ugliness with characters who provided contrasting positive personalities. But the author was more interested in torturing (mentally and physically) every character in some way or other. I do appreciate nuance in characters but all I saw here were people driven by greed and selfishness.
The plot of the philosopher’s stone was honestly rather unbelievable. The author has a nice spin on what it is at the end but I found it hard to believe that it was so impossible to create and yet Thea does it easily with just a few notes. Same with her mother. Only one stone was ever going to be made and it would be made by ‘the last alchemist.’ Notes on how to make it were scattered across various languages/cultures, each having the formula to creating a key ingredient. I didn’t believe in the veracity of the item or why it hadn’t been created already. The author brought in a deus ex machina that it chooses the alchemist it wants – but I have to admit I felt the mother would have been a much better candidate than Thea.
So while it was a dreary read that was a bit too heavy on the gothic, it did have some twists and turns that made it readable. I admit I didn’t like any of the characters and didn’t really care who won in the end as a result. And I wish there were at least some good people in there. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.