Review: A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe

Thea Hope longs to be an alchemist out of the shadow of her famous mother. The two of them are close to creating the legendary Philosopher’s Stone—whose properties include immortality and can turn any metal into gold—but just when the promise of the Stone’s riches is in their grasp, Thea’s mother destroys the Stone in a sudden fit of violent madness. While combing through her mother’s notes, Thea learns that there’s a curse on the Stone that causes anyone who tries to make it to lose their sanity. With the threat of the French Revolution looming, Thea is sent to Oxford for her safety, to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists. But in Oxford, there are alchemists after the Stone who don’t believe Thea’s warning about the curse—instead, they’ll stop at nothing to steal Thea’s knowledge of how to create the Stone. But Thea can only run for so long, and soon she will have to choose: create the Stone and sacrifice her sanity, or let the people she loves die. | Goodreads

Rating: 2.5/5

Review

A Golden Fury covers a topic rarely seen in YA fantasy: alchemy. Add that to the fact that I love books about the French Revolution and I was immediately compelled to request an ARC.

To start with, I thought A Golden Fury was well-written for a debut, and there were some cool ideas in here that I thought were worth exploring. I liked the science-based approach to alchemy and the hints that the field of alchemy was much broader than the stuffy European alchemists were willing to open their eyes and consider. (Though I will note that this would have had more weight if the non-white character who apparently taught Thea her skills was actually given some page time). A Golden Fury is also unafraid of madness: the standout scenes in this book are those where Thea is slowly loosing her grip on reality, to the extent that as the reader, even I wasn’t quite sure what was real anymore. Cohoe really captured the suffocating feeling of losing control.

That said, I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters. Everyone, from Thea to the love interests and the antagonists, seemed to say or do whatever was necessary to drive the plot forward. I couldn’t connect with anyone in this book and thought some of their actions made little sense, which undercut some of the major plot reveals. Additionally, characters’ motivations were typically revealed only once convenient, and hints at interesting backstories were mostly dead-ends. Character development is what makes or breaks a book for me, and unfortunately for the most part, it didn’t exist in this book. Cohoe did, however, nail the thorny relationship between Thea and her mother, and Thea’s self-doubt about living up to her mother’s standards as an alchemist felt real and pervasive.. I will also give the author plenty of kudos for her treatment of the staple YA love triangle – without spoiling the outcome, let’s just say that the mere existence of a love triangle in this book is in fact somewhat of a ruse.

Overall, the weak character development overshadowed any excitement I had about the prospect of an alchemy-based plot and while this was an easy read, it’s not one that I had any deep and meaningful feelings about.

A note on the marketing

Remember how I said I love books about the French Revolution? Well, it turns out that the majority of this book actually takes place in England. The revolutionaries’ attitude toward towards co-opting science for the revolution is mentioned early on as the reason why Thea must flee to England, but then conveniently dropped and never mentioned again. As it turns out, Thea doesn’t have a lot of interest in revolutionary politics of any description. Nor does she have much interest in English politics in Oxford, except occasionally to argue that women should be able to study alchemy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I got my hopes up based on the description, and I suspect others may have as well.

Note: I received an ARC from Wednesday Books in exchange for a review. A Golden Fury will be released on 13 October 2020.

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