Goodreads: A Golden Fury
Source: ARC borrowed from Krysta
Published: October 13, 2020
In her debut novel A Golden Fury, Samantha Cohoe weaves a story of magic and danger, where the curse of the Philosopher’s Stone will haunt you long after the final page.
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 a revolution looming, Thea is sent to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists.
But 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.
When I first started reading A Golden Fury, I had no idea what to expect. Krysta loaned me her ARC because she’d liked it, but I can’t say I have any particular burning interest in stories about alchemists, and I get frustrated easily by historical fiction (historical fantasy in this case) where the author gets more caught up in pointing out sexism than in telling a story. Yet A Golden Fury ended up blowing me away. It has a strong, intelligent female protagonist who knows her own worth and is also willing to give up everything to help the people she loves. It’s a story about science and magic but also strength and sacrifice, and it kept me reading late into the night.
There are nods to the difficulties women faced historically here, as Thea knows full well her alchemical achievements can be easily by men and as she acknowledges that even if alchemy were to be given a department in places like Oxford University–instead of considered charlatanry–it would have no benefit to her, as she would not be allowed to enroll to study it. However, the story doesn’t dwell on what women don’t have and it doesn’t go overboard pointing out how Thea is so different and better than the “usual” stifled women of her era. It simply assumes female strength and celebrates it, starting with Thea’s mother (who is brilliant if cold) and extending even to the side characters and women readers never officially meet on the page.
Thea herself is the one who will truly steal readers’ hearts, of course. She’s a master alchemist, not afraid to to say she’s as good as if not better than her much-celebrated mother, but she’s also kind and brave and loyal. She makes mistakes–and she knows it–but she also wants to become the best person she can be. My favorite parts of the book, however, are when she questions herself and her beliefs. When she is confronted with new people or new information, she wonders how she can take the best parts of them and make them her own. How can she be a good person and emulate the good she sees in others?
All that said, the book is not solely character-driven; it also has an exciting plot. I kept turning the pages because I simply had to know what would happen next. There are a couple mysteries. Who is Thea’s father? Are Thea’s friends hiding something? What are the consequences of making the Philosopher’s Stone? And I had to find the answers to them all. I also, honestly, was a little bit scared of the evil, the curse, that Thea has to encounter while working on the Stone; the book had been looking fitfully into corners of my room!
A Golden Fury is just so immensely engaging on every level, from the characters to the plot to the questions it asks about science, magic, and humanity. I will definitely be looking into whatever Cohoe decides to publish next!