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The Alchemist's Daughter
Eileen Kernaghan
Thistledown Press, 187 pages

Eileen Kernaghan
Eileen Kernaghan was born and raised in British Columbia's North Okanagan Valley. Currently living in New Westminster, she has, over the last 36 years, worked as a freelance writer and a writing instructor for various arts centres, adult education departments, schools and libraries. Her award winning Grey Isles trilogy is set in bronze age Europe and is based on the origins of Stonehenge. Journey to Aprilioth (1980) won the silver "Porgy" Award for original paperback fiction from the West Coast Review of Books. Songs from the Drowned Lands (1983) won the 1983/84 Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award, while the last book of the series, The Sarsen Witch was shortlisted for the same award. Dance of the Snow Dragon, a young adult fantasy novel with a Tibetan Buddhist background, was published in 1995 by Thistledown Press. Kernaghan's poems and short stories have appeared in PRISM international, OnSpec, Tesseracts, TransVersions, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Northern Stars, and Ark of Ice: Canadian Future Fictions. Her poetry has been nominated for the Rhysling Award, and she is one-fifth of the poetry group Quintet, who recently published their first collection, Quintet: Themes and Variations.

The Snow Queen won an Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English.

Eileen Kernaghan Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Winter On the Plain of Ghosts
SF Site Review: The Snow Queen
SF Site Review: The Snow Queen
E-TEXT - Poetry: "Re-incarnate"
Interview: "Road to Shambhala"

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

The Alchemist's Daughter The setting is Elizabethan England under threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada, and our heroine is Sidonie, who is, as the title suggests, the bookish daughter of an impractical and largely unsuccessful alchemist. Always convinced that the transformation of base metal into gold is imminently within his reach, Simon Quince has begged financing for his experiments from Queen Elizabeth, in return for a promise of gold to finance her war efforts. And Sidonie is terrified. What will happen to them if he does not succeed?

Determined to do what she can to help, Sidonie uses her gift for scrying and has a vision of ruined abbey she's sure is Glastonbury. So she decides to go there, in search of magic red earth for her father. As no woman can travel safely alone, she inveigles her friend Kit, the son of an apothecary, into helping her make a journey fraught with more difficulties and dangers than she had ever dreamed.

Eileen Kernaghan is a skilled wordsmith, and she has created characters who are very real, yet slightly whimsical, in a setting that feels historically accurate. Without going into too much detail she manages to convey the technological and social flavour of 1587 in a way that young 21st century readers should be able to grasp. There are a few magical elements in the story -- such as Sidonie's scrying abilities -- but this is for the most part a historical novel.

And that may be its weakness. In order to work the story around real events and characters (such as Elizabeth I, Dr. John Dee, Lady Mary Herbert and Sir Philip Sidney) and within the pacing of an age when journeys were completed on foot, Kernaghan sacrifices a certain amount of story tension. Sidonie encounters a series of challenges and is pulled through the story by events, but without a focussed plot problem for her to resolve, the story loses momentum at times.

I didn't find The Alchemist's Daughter as strong as Kernaghan's last young adult novel, The Snow Queen, but Kernaghan wasn't working with such strong epic material this time. Nonetheless, this is an entertaining, well written tale, once again presented very handsomely by Thistledown Press. (The multiply pierced ear of the medieval girl on the cover is a delightful touch.)

Copyright © 2004 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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