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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Book Review: A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin

A Secret Alchemy focuses on the turbulent Wars of the Roses, specifically two members of the same family: Elizabeth Woodville, at first a woman embarking on her first marriage then later Queen alongside Edward IV, and Anthony, her brother, who is walking to his death. In modern England, Una Pryor has travelled over from Australia to sort out the last remnants of her British life and a combination of her past and her fascination with the Woodvilles leads her on a pilgrimage of her own which could unlock the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

Inevitably, a novel with this scope is difficult to summarise. It can also be difficult to get into because of the switching viewpoints and the many plot strands. However, once you're acquainted with the characters it becomes much easier and I certainly didn't want to put it down. There are necessary time jumps in the narrative of Elizabeth as she progresses through her extraordinary life from supporter of the House of Lancaster to Queen of the Yorkist King. Some of her scenes are distinctly memorable, particularly some of her final ones. Darwin effectively brings Elizabeth to life, partly through her descriptions and partly through the use of Una in the present day.

Flashbacks are utilised well in this novel, both for Una and Anthony. They speed up the latter's sections which could be in danger of sounds repetitive as he undertakes the journey to his death. Importantly, though, the flashbacks always link in - there is always a trigger. In Anthony's case they gradually reveal vital bits of history while in Una's they usually offer emotional responses to the surprises she's encountering on her visit in England.

I enjoyed this book immensely once I got into the swing of it, although I have to say that my interest was hooked primarily by Elizabeth and Anthony themselves. The whole novel hangs together very well and Darwin manages to recreate a world that is both distant and familiar. I particularly enjoyed the mini-history lessons scattered throughout Una's sections which always had a point. Overall, I'd definitely recommend this one to fans of history and historical fiction.

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