A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe
My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes
Date Published: October 13th, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Pages: 352 pages
Synopsis: Set in eighteenth century England, Samantha Cohoe’s debut novel, A Golden Fury follows a young alchemist as she tries to save the people she loves from the curse of the Philosopher’s Stone. The streets of London and Oxford come to life as this historical fantasy unravels. Weaving together an alluring story of magic and danger, Samantha’s debut has her heroine making messy decisions as she toes the line between good and evil while it becomes blurred.
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.
A Golden Fury and the curse of the Philosopher’s Stone will haunt you long after the final page.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
A Golden Fury is a novel that I have somewhat mixed feelings about. Though I overall enjoyed it quite a lot, my opinions on the specific, key components of any story are dramatically different from each other. This has caused me a bit of confusion when it comes to sorting out all my thoughts on it. However, it has also made me continue to think and examine the story at length, and that’s something I always enjoy. I’ll do my best to convey my thoughts about those components as clearly as I can. There is one thing that is completely clear to me though: I had an incredibly fun time reading this.
In this novel, we follow a young woman named Thea. The child of two well-respected alchemists, Thea was set down that same path by her mother from a very early age and has become a very skilled alchemist in her own right. She works under the iron fist of her mother, living life always in her shadow and under her control. Together, the pair have come within the final stages of achieving the dream of every alchemist—creating the Philosopher’s Stone, which is said to cure all sickness and turn any metal into gold.
However, things take a turn when Thea’s mother succumbs to a madness that has gradually taken over her during the process of creating the Stone, destroying it right before it’s finished. Thea flees to Oxford and, upon arriving on the doorstep of a father who knew nothing of her, is thrown into a world of scientific competition where she holds the information that many would kill to have. For a person with her knowledge of the Stone, there is nowhere truly safe to run to. And soon, she is faced with a dilemma—one that will cause the great loss of either those she loves or her own mind.
The plotline is my absolute favorite part of this novel—I really enjoyed it. I ended up finishing this book in only a couple of sittings because I was so engrossed in it. I found the narrative to be very fast-paced and filled with action. The breaks in it where the story slowed were still filled with plenty of interesting displays of knowledge, secrecy, and deception. In those moments, I continued to fly through the story—I always felt very eager to see what would happen next and how every plot point already in progress would play out.
My favorite aspects of it were the alchemical activities and psychological intrigue connected to the Stone. Cohoe’s depictions of the madness that consumes the alchemists that attempted to create the Stone were absolutely brilliant. Unusual sounds. The slight oddities at the corner of the eye. The colored clouds of smoke, only visible to the afflicted alchemist. The looming shadows that appear human but aren’t quite. The rapid spiraling into the dark pit at the heart of the madness. It was all so captivating.
The only hang-up I had was with the ending. It felt like things were solved very abruptly, and each loose thread was either too perfectly wrapped up or too severely lacked an explanation. Mainly, I was disappointed by some missing details about the Stone that I thought really needed to be filled in. The effectiveness of the conclusion of the novel suffered due to that absence of information—without that crucial explanation, it made the events come across as just a means to get to the ending. That being said, up until those last few chapters, the story remained very solid.
On the completely opposite side of the scale, we have the characters. I have to be honest, I really struggled with the characters here, only liking maybe two at most. Dominic was the only character I loved all the way through the novel. I went back and forth with Thea—she irritated me frequently, but I appreciated her strength and intelligence. She made some reckless decisions and blindly placed far too much trust. And while, from the perspective of the reader, the red flags are all over, that behavior completely fits a person in their mid-to-late teens. Stopping and looking back at myself ten or so years ago, those are very relatable behaviors.
The other characters fell very flat for me. They needed to be fleshed out a bit more—needed some more dimension and development. I found Valentin very interesting and wished there had been more to his personal story as well as his involvement in the main plotline. Overall, there was so much bitterness, resentment, and hostility between everyone and, while it proved to be understandable in some situations, it overwhelmed the plot in many others. A couple of side characters displayed a change in their attitude toward Thea and each other, but I would have loved to see it be more widespread and dynamic in nature.
The writing is where my thoughts and feelings even out. I liked Cohoe’s writing and felt that it was fairly easy to get caught up in. The novel would have benefitted from a little more worldbuilding—what is there is well-done and vividly set the tone and atmosphere, as well as the backdrop for the events of the plot. Cohoe has a strong voice and a nice, natural flow to her words. She balanced the pacing of the narrative well throughout most of it, the very ending being the only part where things felt rushed.
As you can probably tell, my opinion is all over the map when it comes to this story, but I want to stress again how much I enjoyed reading it. It is a truly engaging read in more ways than one, and I not only loved it for its captivating plot but also the way that it has left me examining it and thinking about it long after finishing. I got wholly lost in both the fast-paced action and the slower moments of intrigue—and, at times, delightful eeriness—encompassed in this narrative. A Golden Fury is a very solid debut from a promising new author, and it is a book that I would definitely recommend giving a go.
About the Author
Samantha Cohoe writes historically-inspired young adult fantasy. She was raised in San Luis Obispo, California, where she enjoyed an idyllic childhood of beach trips, omnivorous reading, and writing stories brimming with adverbs. She currently lives in Denver with her family and divides her time among teaching Latin, mothering, writing, reading, and deleting adverbs. A Golden Fury is her debut novel.
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*A Nerd Daily YA Debut to Watch Out for in 2020*
“Sharply written with a crackling, compassionately determined heroine, A Golden Fury is a vivid ride through eighteenth century Europe with darkness and dread creeping at its corners. Utterly enchanting.” – Emily A. Duncan, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Saints
“An engaging concoction of fantasy, romance, and historical fiction.” – Booklist
“Cohoe situates the supernatural among the historical, referencing the French Revolution and the Enlightenment while…keeping a sense of urgency as Thea struggles with the magical, demonic pull of the Stone.” – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“The attention to detail in the story is excellent. Thea herself is a confident lead with a strong voice. A solid fantasy to flesh out the world of alchemy that most readers know only from ‘Harry Potter.'” – School Library Journal
“Cohoe transmutes the legend of the Philosopher’s Stone into a dark, intoxicating tale of ambition, obsession, and sacrifice. Prepare for a magic that will consume you.” – Rosamund Hodge, New York Times bestselling author of Cruel Beauty and Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
“Steeped in mystery and magic, Samantha Cohoe’s A Golden Fury immerses readers in beautifully rendered world where magic and science mix, and where the intoxication of power can be deadly. Whip-smart Thea is a heroine readers will root for.” – Lisa Maxwell, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Magician