The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon
I bought this after having read another book by this author - The Rose of Sebastapol, which I'd bought from a charity booksale for 10p, thus proving that such second-hand book sales CAN benefit the author! I was so taken with The Rose that I bought 2 further books by the author from Amazon.
This one's set in the early 1700s. The heroine is Emilie who's been brought up by her alchemist father, pretty much isolated from the rest of the world. When, aged 18, she meets a dashing young man who comes to learn from her father, the inevitable happens and she falls in love. He is only interested in alchemy if it can make him money, but when he meets the pretty young heir to a large estate he sees another way of making money, and seduces her. She falls pregnant and marries him. Her father apparently casts her off, wants nothing more to do with her. She loses the baby and over the next year or two the marriage breaks apart. Emilie's father dies, and so her husband takes over the estate and begins to shape it into the fashionable country retreat he dreams of. He's having an affair with Emilie's maid Sarah, who becomes pregnant. Emilie, meanwhile, is beginning to notice the local rector, a widower who has an interest in scientific experiment (though not alchemy!) She realises her father was right, she's married the wrong man. She sends Sarah away, but then, after nearly blowing herself up in an alchemical experiment, she discovers that she herself was the daughter of a fallen woman who turned up at her father's door, heavily pregnant and very sick. Her father had taken the woman in, and adopted the child. She decides to go to London to find Sarah and help her. Her husband, now broke, goes off in a slaving voyage in an attempt to make his fortune. Emilie finds Sarah, sick and dying but with the help of a midwife manages to save the baby. The ending is open - but we can assume the husband won't make it back and Emilie can make a new life with Sarah's baby and the rector, and an annual allowance her father had set up for her in the event of her husband leaving her....
Ooops, I seem to have given away the entire plot. Well, no one reads this blog anyway. It's a good book, with a reasonably satisfying ending though not as good as The Rose of Sebastapol. I did enjoy the depiction of the early 18th century - a very different feel to it than to the 19th century books I've been reading a lot of lately. The experiments of Emilie and her father bridge the gap between earlier witchcraft and later true science. A very interesting time, and the book came across as well-researched and well-written.