3 reasons A Golden Fury is definitely not your typical YA fantasy

A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe. Image courtesy St. Martin’s Press & Wednesday Books
A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe. Image courtesy St. Martin’s Press & Wednesday Books /

Samantha Cohoe’s A Golden Fury is a tale of alchemy and magic that goes in a completely unexpected – and extremely welcome – new direction.

Samantha Cohoe’s A Golden Fury follows the story of young Theosebeia Hope a teenage scientist, scholar and alchemist determined to help find the famed Philosopher’s Stone. She and her mother feel certain that they are close to the truth when a dangerous madness claims Marguerite, making her a threat to her daughter and clouding her once brilliant mind.

The story, set in eighteenth-century France follows Thea’s attempt to finish the work she and her mother began and claim her place as the most gifted alchemist of the age. But she’ll have to keep from going mad herself, thanks to an apparent curse that strikes anyone who gets too close to creating the Stone, navigate an uncomfortable reunion with the father she’s never met, and figure out what she wants her life to look like.

In short,  A Golden Fury is hardly the sort of YA fantasy we’re used to seeing these days. There are no lost queens or magical fey kingdoms, the traditional love triangle is surprisingly absent from the main narrative, and the novel’s heroine makes her way in the world not with magic, but her own intellect. How rare, indeed.

Here are three reasons that A Golden Fury stands out from the pack – and might be worth your time.

A premise that you won’t find anywhere else

The idea of alchemy – the process that was purported to change the physical properties of metals, particularly lead into gold – has always been a fascinating one. The search for the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary substance that could cure all ills, is familiar to anyone who has ever read the first Harry Potter book, yet somehow we don’t actually have that much fiction – at least YA fiction – that explores this time period. A Golden Fury would be a worthwhile read for that alone, as it pokes at uncomfortable period issues regarding science, faith, and gender in ways we don’t often see in stories like this.

The setting – which rockets from pre-Revolutionary France to Oxford, England – doesn’t play as large of a role as one might hope. The snippets we get of the judgment Thea as a female scientist receives from the Oxford dons is intriguing, as is the threat of revolution in France, but neither really go anywhere substantial (a shame).

A brilliant heroine whose struggles we understand

Like many YA heroines before her, Theosebia is, in a sense, the chosen one of the story – but not because she’s special. It’s because she’s determined, incredibly smart, and works hard toward her goals. She’s a scientist and a scholar, who has spent her life reading philosophy and learning alchemy at the feet of her mother, herself a renowned scientist in her own right.

A Golden Fury is careful to remind us often all how unusual this really is  – that a girl in eighteenth-century France would be allowed, let alone encouraged, to do things like teaching herself Arabic in the name of solving the mystery of life. As awful as her mother turns out to be at various points in the story, Marguerite does deserve a certain amount of praise for raising a daughter who never doubts her own intellectual abilities for a single moment. (And, conversely, she deserves no small amount of criticism for also convincing her daughter that she wasn’t anything without her alchemical knowledge.)

Thea is clever, likable, and brilliant – confident in her own abilities and sure of her purpose in life. Though her obsession with the Philosopher’s Stone can often feel grating, her scientific ability, surefooted trust in her own skills, and love for the process of solving problems shines, particularly since we so rarely see them in a teenage girl.  A Golden Fury’s acknowledgment of her desire for fame and recognition is equally well done, and something absolutely no one would judge in a male character.

A deft subversion of expected tropes – especially when it comes to romance

Far too often in YA fantasy – period-set, contemporary, magical, or something in between – the plot structure is built around the heroine’s love life. Whether she’s meeting a new suitor, realizing her feelings for an old enemy, or being traded to an ally for the safety and good of her kingdom, the driving force behind many of the most popular YA fantasies today is romance.

And that’s not a bad thing. Obviously! But it’s sometimes awfully nice to read a story wherein romance doesn’t just take a back seat to everything else going on, it’s barely even there in the first place. Instead, A Golden Fury is refreshingly focused on the interior life of its heroine – celebrating her intelligence, determination, and cleverness in their own right instead of as tools that might appeal to a man.

Though the questions of Thea’s romantic future do weigh heavily in this novel, there’s nothing you might call a love triangle. In fact, the story is much more concerned with our heroine’s future in its own right – what does the world offer clever women who don’t want quiet lives of submission and child-rearing? What kind of future can a girl of Thea’s brilliance and talent forge for herself, if given the chance?

Ultimately the idea of love in A Golden Fury is both explored and expressed in surprisingly new and necessary ways: As fathers and daughters, as friends, as memories of those we once cared about. Not everyone – be their parents or partners – are always equipped to give us the love we deserve, and it’s both completely okay and often necessary to acknowledge that.

At the end of the day, A Golden Fury isn’t the most exciting or groundbreaking YA novel you’ll read this year. But its original setting and thoughtful framing are surprisingly enjoyable and prove a pleasant way to spend a few hours for those who give it a look.

Next. Roshani Chokshi talks The Silvered Serpents, Severin & more. dark

A Golden Fury is available now. Let us know if you plan to add it to your TBR pile this month!