Title: A Secret Alchemy
Author: Emma Darwin
Release Date: June 2, 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5
From the back cover:
The cruel fate of the Princes in the Tower is one of the most fascinating—and most troubling—of all England’s historical murder mysteries. But what was the truth behind the deaths of the young Edward V and his brother, Dickon, taken from their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, King Edward IV’s beautiful widow, and their guardian, Anthony Woodville? And what about the man who would become King Richard III?
In a brilliant feat of historical daring, the acclaimed author of The Mathematics of Love reimagines the tragedy of the youngest victims of the Wars of the Roses. Through the voices of Elizabeth, Anthony, and Una—a historian who herself knows grief, betrayal, and secret love—Emma Darwin re-creates the lethal power struggles into which the boys were born, their heart-wrenching imprisonment, and the ultimate betrayal of their innocence.
I’ve been reading a lot of books on The Wars of the Roses lately – it might be my new favorite time period for historical fiction! Therefore, when I heard about A Secret Alchemy, I immediately knew I wanted to read it.
A Secret Alchemy is a very strange book. It is told from three points of view: Elizabeth Wydville, Anthony Wydeville (Elizabeth’s brother), and Una, a modern day historian interested in Elizabeth and Anthony. From the book’s description, I didn’t pick up that Una’s story was set in the present. Therefore, I was incredibly confused when Una’s story took over! Happily, I adjusted quickly to the surprise.
A Secret Alchemy is very well written, in terms of language used. I appreciated that it was easy to read. Also, one of my favorite parts of the novel was that it was written from Elizabeth Wydeville’s point of view. As a result, this oft-vilified woman is given a voice of her own and portrayed sympathetically.
I say that A Secret Alchemy is strange because I often found myself confused when I was reading it. I’m really glad I was previously aware of the history of The Wars of the Roses because I would not have picked it up from this book. Darwin indiscriminately jumps time in this book. Had I not known what was going on, I would have been completely bewildered.
Additionally, the entire novel has a layer of ambiguity to it. If you persevere past the first 150 pages or so, things become clearer. But at the beginning, it’s really difficult to tell who is who and what time period they are in. Additionally, Una wasn’t really convincing for me as the modern day vehicle for the story. Her part focused much more on her personal issues, rather than on Elizabeth and Anthony.
A Secret Alchemy is definitely an interesting read, though I only recommend it to fans of historical fiction who already are familiar with the Wars of the Roses. If you don’t know much about the time period, definitely don’t start with this book – you will find yourself completely lost!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book to review!