September 4, 2013

The Madman's Daughter

by Megan Shepherd
ages: 13+
First sentence: "The basement hallways in King's College of Medical Research were dark, even in daytime."
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Juliet Moreau is 16 and in desperate straights. Her father -- yes, that is the Dr. Moreau of H. G. Wells' classic The Island of Dr. Moreau -- has been exiled from London in a scandal and her mother has died of consumption, leaving Juliet penniless. Thankfully, someone found her work cleaning in the medical labs, but that -- while keeping her off the streets -- is not ideal.

So when she runs into her father's old servant (now assistant), Montgomery, she bullies him into taking him with her back to the island, back to her father.

Which is where the madness is.

I have never read the H. G. Wells classic, so I can't compare the two. (As a side note: I kind of want to read it now.) But this one was... interesting. Victorian in setting, Gothic in feel, the novel propelled me a long its story of love, betrayal, and, well, science. I liked Juliet as a character, even if she did feel a bit modern to my tastes; I don't think in this kind of book it could be helped. She needed to be a strong, independent-minded young woman, and Shepherd gave us that. She also convincingly portrayed Juliet not as a naive girl, one who is all too willing to believe in her father's innocence, but rather as someone who believes and hopes for the best in her father, until evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt proves otherwise.

In addition, the island setting, with its creatures and monsters, was sufficiently creepy. Not enough to keep me up at night, but close.

What didn't work for me was the romance. I think it was partially because I felt it was unnecessary: Juliet had enough on her plate with her insane father, and trying to figure out all the ins and outs of his experimentation (all the way down to figuring out if she's real or a creation), that it seemed a bit much to throw in a love triangle as well. I did like the way it turned out: there's a spectacular twist (which I probably should have seen coming but didn't), and while I thought the ending was somewhat unsatisfying, in retrospect, I have to admit it fit the characters and the story.

It was a good, solid debut, and since I hear the next one is based on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I'm sold.

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