Imperfect Alchemist

Written by Naomi Miller
Review by Chiara Prezzavento

In 1573, two bright young girls lead very different lives. Wealthy aristocrat Mary Sidney is learning her place as the only surviving daughter of a prominent family, while little commoner Rose Commin, whose healer mother has been charged with witchcraft, is sent to be a maidservant with Lord Pembroke’s wife, Lady Catherine. Apparently the two have nothing in common – except loss, a yearning to find solace and meaning in artistic pursuits, and a budding interest in alchemy. When, a few years later, Mary becomes the second Countess of Pembroke, she and Rose are thrown together as mistress and maid, and slowly their mutual wariness begins to thaw into understanding and collaboration, as both young women learn to make sense of their world through poetry, art, and healing. Will they also learn to rely on each other, in the trials and adversities that lie ahead? Naomi Miller charts the remarkable life of Mary Sidney by recounting her various intellectual passions as one alchemical quest for wholeness. With two engaging women at its heart, and a layered exploration of artistic creation, and women in Tudor society, Imperfect Alchemist is an absorbing novel of ideas.