Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Madman's Daughter

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman's Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I almost put this book down because of Juliet's character. I think it takes a really masterful writer to create a likable, believable heroine with backbone that still feels like an authentic 19th century young woman. Too often you see protagonists who are simply too modern, or too waifish, or, which is worse, the only Strong Female surrounded by dithering featherheads obsessed with fashion and fishing for husbands. Juliet tends to fall into this last group, which is a shame. Is it really so much to ask for characters who act with strength and integrity without feeling like 21st century transplants in corsets? *sigh* Anyway. She's not all bad- she is perfectly willing to take matters into her own hands, and is fairly capable and layered. I like that she's interested in science and anatomy, I just like it less that the author makes a huge deal out of the fact that it's so unusual and of course all the other characters are shocked and blah blah blah.

I couldn't get into the romance either. Don't get me wrong, plenty of the scenes were quite swoon-worthy and a bit more exciting than plenty of other books, but the love triangle aspect felt cliche and Juliet spent far too much time vacillating between the two guys.

There are plenty of things Shepherd gets right though, including lots of truly horrifying sciences of science gone mad, heart pounding escapes, and a few reveals I hadn't scene coming (others you'll hear like a herd of elephants on parade through the jungle, but that's another matter). I cared more about the characters as time went on, too. All in all there are enough aspects of this book to recommend it, especially for those looking for something creepy and romantic with Victorian trappings.

This is not really Steampunk, but would very probably be enjoyed by fans of The Girl in the Steel Corset, Something Strange and Deadly, The Iron Thorn or especially The Masque of the Red Death, with its 19th century setting, mad science, and Thrilling Gothic Aspects. Plus, H.G. Wells is often credited as one of the pioneers of Steampunk, so, maybe it's not far off after all.

The Madness Underneath

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Devereaux has been living in Bristol under the close watch of her parents. So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory jumps at the chance. But Rory's brush with the Ripper touched her more than she thought possible: she's become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades—the city's secret ghost-fighting police—are responsible for her return. The Ripper may be gone, but now there is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory has evidence that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it's too late. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Unusually for many series installments, our protagonist, Rory, has rather a lot of consequences to wade through- not the least of which, coping with the trauma of a violent attack that occurred at the end of The Name of the Star. I really like that Johnson took the time to deal with these issues, it adds another layer of believability. That being said, looking back, this one does suffer a bit from middle-of-the-series-itis. The reveals weren't as big as they could have been, there wasn't much romantic sparkage, and there was a great deal of set-up for the next book. And why, oh why did we only get one appearance from Alistair, the 80s punk ghost who haunts the literature section of the library?! Love him! Miss him! Need more of him!

Still, I love Rory and the world she inhabits (although I will admit that, when the book dragged, I got a bit distracted pretending that this was taking place in the Being Human UK, and that Rory might bump into Annie or Mitchell at any moment). I'm excited to read the next book, The Shadow Cabinet, in 2014.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Following Fiction

The other day I came across two really fascinating articles about how we, as readers and viewers, assimilate fiction into our daily lives. Please take a moment to check them out here and here, as they are both fun and enlightening reads.

The gist of both is that people tend, consciously or otherwise, to incorporate the things we love from fiction, in many ways for many reasons. Some of it is pretty straightforward- "Gee, Legolas looks like he's having fun with that bow, maybe I'll archery a try!" Or "everyone looks better in a greatcoat, maybe I should get one." Another reason is to participate in the culture of a show/book/movie/video game/radio play, to identify yourself to other fans. "Hey, that girl is wearing an 'I'm a Slayer, ask me how!' button! I think I'll go say hi."

Other reasons go a bit deeper. As one author suggests, "maybe it’s a little bit about courage. About reinvention. About taking charge of yourself, and becoming the person you want to be. When you drink Earl Grey, maybe you feel as though you’ve gained some of Captain Picard’s enlightened perspective. When you take archaeology classes, maybe you’re certain that you could be the one to discover Tannis."

I love that idea. It reminds us that our love for fiction is a cycle. We identify with the characters we like because we see ourselves in them and/or aspire to be more like them. I love the character of Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, for example. I can see myself in her devout nerd love, her casual wardrobe, her obsession with food and her sometimes crippling overthinking. To follow the cycle, I aspire to her success, her feminism and her ability to do her own thing.

When I started thinking about this idea, I found so many examples in my own life. In high school, while sharing a Tolkien obsession with friends, we learned to write in Cirth, the runes of Middle-earth, to pass notes. I picked a prom dress that wouldn't have looked out of place at Netherfield Park or Pemberley. When it came time to choose a career, I'd be lying if I claimed my choice of "librarian" had nothing to do with Sunnydale's own action librarian, Rupert Giles, or that my personal folklore collection isn't at least partially because I have a fear hope that one day I may need to look up how to defeat a _________ . 

While we're on the subject of his great and mighty Whedonness, even the way I express myself is a result of the fiction I've absorbed. I defy anyone to OD on Joss and/or the great Amy Sherman-Palladino and not come away speaking too quickily, snarkily, and mainly in pop-culture metaphors, or to immerse themselves in British television and not pick up a slew of interesting new words, as well as a fondess for hyperbole, absurdity, sarcasm and a well-phrased insult (or maybe that's just down to Richard Curtis and Jeremy Clarkson?)

There are just so many ways, small and large, that fiction has had an impact on my life. On the small scale, the first three drinks I ever ordered at restaurants were an Appletini, a Seabreeze, and a White Russian (double bonus points to anyone who can name the sources for those). On a larger scale, there are things I've borrowed that have had a noticeable impact on my life. I'm so grateful to Scrubs and, later, Community for championing the fun and importance of imagination as an adult.

Even my moral compass and worldview have been shaped, partially, by fiction. Doctor Who reminds me of the importance of bravery, wonder, exploration and compassion. Firefly- loyalty, doing the right thing because it *is* the right thing, not because of religion or society. And, ok, I may not be great. But I'm pretty good. Well, I'm alright. 

As you can see, I had a blast excavating my own experiences with fiction for this post. What impact has fiction had on your life?