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.


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