Monday, August 7, 2017

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

I have no idea where I first saw this book, but I knew it was something I just had to read.  It looked quirky, inventive, and a good way to stick my toe back into science fiction/fantasy.

Theodora Goss started her writing journey during her dissertation.  Her interest in monsters lead her to wonder why, in 19th century literature, the female creatures were always destroyed by their creators?  What if they survived?  

This is their story.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I ended up liking this story, even though there wasn't a lot of action.  I liked it so much that when the second novel comes out (which just has to happen!) I will pick it up and dive right into the story of Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

Yes, each of these young ladies is the result of monsters.  For Mary and Diana, they both have the same father, but one was the scientist, the other the madman.  Beatrice is a walking vision, but so poisonous she can't touch or breath on anyone or she'll kill them.  Catherine is the result of Dr. Moreau's attempt to change a puma into a woman; Justine is the original "Bride of Frankenstein".  

The story starts out with Mary Jekyll burying her mother, and facing the inevitable:  she's broke, her father is dead, and she is alone in the world.  Her mother's lawyer leads Mary to find out she has a sister: Diana, who has been raised in a poorly run and not very holy convent.  Diana is fourteen, fiesty, and able to climb up buildings with ease.  The two reluctantly become housemates, and for an extra kicker, they are pulled into the mysterious Whitechapel killings.  Young women are being murdered, and parts of them are being taken away:  arms, legs, hands, and even brains.  Who would do this madness?  In steps...Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  Yes!  What a great addition to this tale.  Holmes & Watson help anchor the storyline and provide some good guidance and stability to the ladies.  

As time goes on, each young lady is introduced in the story line, their tale is told, and the web gets more and more tangled.  Each has a connection to a secret society through their creators, but they can't figure out what exactly goes on in this society, and who exactly belongs to it.  

The only thing I didn't like about this novel were the interruptions in the tale by the characters. Catherine was writing it all down, to be turned into a publication (which would provide some income)--most likely a penny dreadful.  Yes, these interruptions helped shape the present relationships between the ladies, but I found it a bit annoying.  And anyway, I knew they'd all get along, so I didn't need this extra bit to explain things.  My thought as I read this was that it would make a great movie in the same vein as the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies.   

This is an adult book, but I certainly could see teens reading it.  At times I felt like I was reading a teen novel, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a teenager who likes a bit of Victorian England fantasy.  It stops short of steampunk, but with a few little adjustments, it could certainly be steampunk.  

Rating:  3/6 for a twist on the usual monster/creator story.  This was full of young women who lived on their own, were smart, capable, and unafraid to search for answers to their mysterious beginnings.  I will definitely read the second novel when (not if!) it comes out.  Also, I just adored the cover art.  That made me pick it up in the first place.  

Available in hardcover and ebook.  Paperback will be out in February, 2018.

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