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A Secret Alchemy Paperback – 30 Apr 2009
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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
Cruel betrayals, royal secrets and an ancient murder: Possession meets The Other Boleyn Girl in the heartbreaking story of the Princes in the TowerSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.
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The historical content was beautifully written and had me believing in the stories of Anthony and Elizabeth Woodville.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.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
Reflecting the range of reviews already posted, my views on this novel are conflicting.
The most engaging voice is that of Antony Woodville whose story is told most... Read more
Grew and grew on me as I went forward. There's a very interesting thing going on in the parallel process - it's not just the story of a story but the two families concerned are... Read morePublished 21 months ago by JRyan
An inability to accurately remember the facts of history meant this was read with a sense of knowing it wouldn't have a happy ending but being unsure as to exactly how. Read morePublished on 21 Feb. 2014 by Sandra Davies
An acknowledgement at the back of this book tells us that it was written as part of a PhD course in creative writing at Goldsmith's College. Read morePublished on 22 April 2012 by Bookwoman
I started out enjoying this book, but it became more and more of a struggle to get through & by page 329 (less than 100 pages from the end) I very nearly gave up. Read morePublished on 11 April 2012 by J. Brown
I enjoyed this book - having said that though if you weren't familiar on the story and historical facts of the war of the roses - i.e. all the names and titles etc .. Read morePublished on 16 Aug. 2011 by F. Smith
A Secret Alchemy
Oh dear, thought I would really love this book from the formal reviews, but how wrong can you be? Read more