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A Secret Alchemy Paperback – 30 Apr 2009

3.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review; paperback / softback edition (30 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755330676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755330676
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 894,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

Praise for THE MATHEMATICS OF LOVE: 'This is that rare thing, a book that works on every conceivable level... an uncommonly good read' -- The Times 'Fascinating!. If you're in a book club torn between lovers of 19th-century and modern fiction, The Mathematics of Love may be just the thing to square the circle... hauntingly beautiful' -- Washington Post 'Convincing and involving...a book to lose yourself in' -- Daily Mail 'A beautifully written, intelligent book...as historically graphic and passionately romantic as Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong' -- Waterstone's Books Quarterly 'A daring debut novel...Emma Darwin's prose is golden and convincing. Addictive' -- Daily Express 'The reader is spellbound...electrifying' -- Independent 'This sweeping tale of nineteenth-century war and courtship and twentieth-century teenage rebellion has a real flavour of its own that will grip you to the end...an accomplished, vividly realised debut' -- Marie Claire

Book Description

Cruel betrayals, royal secrets and an ancient murder: Possession meets The Other Boleyn Girl in the heartbreaking story of the Princes in the Tower

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Customer reviews

Top customer reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Please, do not be put off by the negative reviews. This is a truly beautiful book, superbly written. Some reviewers here seemed confused by the rich tapestry of time, place and character, which for me made it so engaging. It should not be judged or compared to other, more conventional, (straight histfic) works. Emma has written something fresh and delightful. Perhaps those who could not follow should stick to the likes of Phillipa Gregory. This soars above such mundane fodder.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wonderful book - especially if you like historical novels. Beautifully blended with a parallel present day story.
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Format: Paperback
I wanted so much to love this novel unreservedly. The stories of Elizabeth Woodville and her brother Anthony drew me deeply into the past in a way that felt entirely convincing. The texture of everyday life, the outlook and beliefs of these people, and above all their inner pain, love, faith and insecurity, are all portrayed without any sensationalism or plot contrivances. In particular Anthony's inexorable progress towards his fate makes a compelling story and helps to anchor the many shifts into past time and memory. I did find it very difficult to keep track of who was who, and had constantly to refer to the family trees. However it all begins to make sense halfway through as the familiar tragic story of Richard III and the princes in the Tower emerges.

What spoilt this book for me was the parallel modern story. This too was confusing, with a large caste of inter-related characters, but I felt far less interested in sorting them all out. I didn't really care about these modern people; and although Una is supposed to be researching the Woodvilles, she never actually seems to do any research, and the chance discovery she makes at the end is not essential to the story and could easily have been incorporated into the earlier narrative.

Emma Darwin's writing is beautiful, and I'm glad I read this book even though I could not wholeheartedly recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
I started to read this book and became so confused with a multiplicity of characters both ancient and modern I put it to one side. However, not one to give up on a book I picked it up again and this time having unravelled some of the characters began to become involved.

As other reviewers have commented the modern thread is almost a kind of filler akin to the adverts on the television, you watch them with half an eye whilst waiting for the programme you were watching to start again.

The historical content was beautifully written and had me believing in the stories of Anthony and Elizabeth Woodville. It was a part of history that I was not particularly familiar with, and I suppose I am not that much more informed than I was before but there has been a sketchy filling in of the circumstances leading up to the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the political posturing of the Houses of York and Lancaster. At the end of the day anyone with the surname of Plantagenet is going to be pretty interesting one way or another.

This is a book for those interested in history but don't wish to delve deeply into the whys and wherefores. Just try to ignore the modern part it is pretty irrelevant and ultimately disappointing but it will stir an interest into Elizabeth and her family which can be followed up in depth in many other more weighty tomes.
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Format: Paperback
I like books that are written in different voices, and Darwin makes a good job of making her individual narrators distinct, so you know (even without the section headings) exactly who is speaking. Less clear is when they are speaking, though - or at least what time they are speaking about. Anthony is travelling to certain death, a captivity that can only end in execution, and he is looking back over his life. Since his thoughts are in response to points on his journey, they are not necessarily chronological, which I found a bit confusing.
Una's voice is modern, and although I found it a welcome respite from the warrants and petitions and salutations, I initially struggled to see the connection between the two stories. Once Una had begun her own 'pilgrimage' of sorts, the two strands, ancient and modern, began to connect and made more sense as a combined tale.
It's difficult not to compare A Secret Alchemy with Philippa Gregory's 'Cousins' War' series. Where Gregory's Elizabeth is passionate and ambitious, Darwin's portrait is softer, describing a woman in the service of her king and family. Anthony is a much fuller character in Darwin's novel, with a voice of his own and he is the pivot between the Royal story and Una's narrative.
I thought The Secret Alchemy improved the further I got into it. And because there were other stories to be told along the way (the outcome for the Princes in the Tower wasn't the sole issue) there wasn't the 'Titanic effect' of hurtling towards the inevitable iceberg.
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Format: Paperback
The Secret Alchemy is set in both present day and 15th century England. The interwoven stories are seen through the eyes of both Elizabeth Woodville, the beautiful widow of King Edward IV, and her brother Anthony; whilst the modern section is told by historian, Una, who is writing a book on Anthony Woodville's library. Elizabeth Woodville is the mother of the famous 'Princes in the Tower', who were imprisoned in the Tower by their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, after Edaward's death.

I was impressed by the way each section came across differently, with all three characters having a recognisable voice, although I'm not sure how accurate the language of the historical section was. I'm not an expert, but it just reads differently from other books written about this period.

I didn't think that the modern day section was really necessary. I felt the book could have benefited from concentrating on Elizabeth's story, as I really enjoyed reading about her. Una's character just seemed to be there to explain the history of the War of the Roses, which although I found useful, should have been able to be achieved within the historical section. I think that anyone who knows much about this period of history would feel patronised by the continual explanations of events, but luckily for me, my only knowledge of this period comes from reading Jean Plaidy books, and that was a while ago now! Towards the end the number of characters got a bit confusing for me, so I had to keep referring to the family tree provided in the front of the book, so I'm really pleased that was included.

This book is light and easy to read, but lacks the atmosphere of a great piece of historical fiction. I can see why this book would appeal to many people, but I felt that it meandered around a bit too much and so failed to really engage me.
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