A thoughtful, intelligent addition to the young adult genre, Alchemy’s Daughter by Mary A. Osborne proves that a star-crossed love story can also teach history, science, and spirituality.
Well-rounded and real characters fill up Osborne’s picture of medieval Italy. In the fourteenth-century village of San Gimignano, a young girl studies alchemy. Santina Pietra is the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant who dabbles in alchemy during late nights spent in his attic. Santina eavesdrops on her father and his young friend, Calandrino. She becomes enthralled both with the magical idea of turning metals into gold and with the captivating Calandrino.
As Santina experiences a striking tragedy in her youth that transforms her mind and heart, she seeks solace in her studies of ancient texts and in conversations with Calandrino. The young scholar becomes her tutor, and the two like-minds find themselves embedded in a forbidden love story.
When forces beyond her power seek to separate the two young lovers, Santina feels abandoned and seeks out the companionship of the village midwife. Through a long and challenging apprenticeship into midwifery, Santina comes to believe in a truer form of alchemy that perhaps doesn’t turn metal into gold, but points to the enlightened soul as the final destination. She believes that the study of science may lead to the elixir, or the philosopher’s stone.
Through hardship, Santina develops strength. When faced with a problematic birth thought to be impossible to overcome without death as a result, she and the midwife choose science and spirituality over superstition. This decision leads them both into danger as the villagers brand science as witchcraft.
Santina’s journey into adulthood leads her through the darkest of times, where the strength of her mind determines her fate, not a rescue by a white knight. She experiences the plague sweeping through Italy, and she endures with bravery, treating the ill and being cast once again as a witch for saving lives with a mixture of science and spirituality.
While Alchemy’s Daughter resonates with readers of historical fiction, Renaissance literature, and the YA genre, Osborne succeeds most in writing a work of fiction that entertains as well as enlightens. Readers can feel good about recommending this novel to the young adults in their lives as Santina’s story has the ability to inspire and provoke thought while still weaving in an exciting love story.
Alchemy’s Daughter asks questions of its readers, encouraging an interactive read that goes beyond the fast-moving plot line. What would have happened, readers may wonder, if superstition had never stood in the way of science? Had progressive women and men not been killed as witches and heretics but praised as leading minds, what might the world look like in the twenty-first century? These questions challenge readers to see themselves in a wider world view, opening minds to the turmoil of history and the potential for the future.
Santina’s mentor, the aging and persecuted midwife, continues along the path that she knows to be her purpose regardless of the mounting dangers. On the first night of their meeting, Santina approaches the midwife looking for advice and perhaps a potion to cure her young, broken heart. The midwife tells Santina that she must focus on herself before she can fully love someone else. She asks Santina, “How big do you want your life to be?” It’s a question Osborne herself asks of her readers. Alchemy’s Daughter presents an engaging journey into a forgotten past, and in doing so offers up a coming-of-age story that transcends genre.
Mary A. Osborne lives and writes in Chicago. Alchemy’s Daughter is her second novel. When not writing adventures of the Alchemy Series, Osborne hosts alchemy parties that mix a bit of fun with art and inspiration. These parties focus on spiriting teenage girls to realize their ambitions and turn them into life goals. For more information on her alchemy parties, visit Osborne’s alchemy website at mysticfiction.com or check out her author site at MaryAOsborne.com for blog updates from the author.
May 2015, Lake Street Press
Historical Fiction/Young Adult
$16.95, paperback, 280 pages
—Reviewed by Mindy M. Jones