Genre: YA Horror
Publisher: Balzar + Bray
Release date: January 29 2013
Source: eARC from the publisher via Edelweiss
“Memories of my father flooded me. As a surgeon, blood had been his medium like ink to a writer. Our fortune had been built on blood, the acrid odor infused into the very bricks of our house, the clothes that we wore.”
The Madman’s Daughter was not what I expected. It had a gothic creepiness that really got under my skin, and even days after finishing it, I am still thinking about certain passages that were quite shocking. I haven’t read H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, on which this story is based, but I did go back and do some research (thank you Wikipedia!) and was surprised to find that The Madman’s Daughter echoes many of the details of Wells’ story. What’s different here, however, is the very smart addition of a daughter for Dr. Moreau named Juliet, a sixteen-year-old girl who goes in search of her lost father, only to find herself trapped in a hell that is nearly impossible to escape.
When the story opens, Juliet is living in near poverty after her father has disappeared in the wake of a medical scandal, and her mother has died. With no one to support her, she has found work as a maid at a medical facility, where she surreptitiously studies anatomy and medicine while cleaning up after the medical students. Late one night as she is about to leave work, she happens upon a terrible sight: several students are gathered around an operating table performing an illegal vivisection on a rabbit. Juliet tries to stop them, and in the process she notices a familiar scientific drawing of a rabbit with the initials H. M. in the corner. This important clue that suggests her father might still be alive sends Juliet on a journey that she will come to regret.
After forcing one of the boys to tell her where he got the paper, Juliet sets off to look for her father, but instead finds an old friend that she hasn’t seen in six years, a boy named Montgomery. She persuades him to take her with him to the island where he has been living with Juliet’s father and assisting him in his research. And here’s where the good part starts. Juliet is reunited with her father, but he’s not the man she remembers. He has been working diligently on a secret project, and Juliet is about to experience his handiwork first hand.
I don’t want to give away any surprises, because I think this book is best if the reader discovers the horrors without any spoilers. Shepherd builds the tension slowly and never gives the reader a chance to relax. The gruesome secrets of the island keep coming as we learn what Dr. Moreau is really up to, the truth behind Juliet’s childhood illness, and the creature responsible for killing several of the island’s inhabitants. Telling the story in first person from Juliet’s perspective gives the narrative an urgency that makes this book really hard to put down once you pick it up.
One of the things I loved about this story is the relationships between the characters and how fragile they are. Juliet wants to believe that her father is a good man, but her faith is shattered when she discovers that he is selfish and cares nothing for anything but his experiments. The story does have a love triangle, but I have to say it worked really well for me. Juliet is attracted not only to Montgomery, but to a strange man named Edward whom they rescue at sea during their voyage to the island. Both Montgomery and Edward were appealing in different ways, so it was believable to me that Juliet would be attracted to both of them. A cast of secondary characters, Dr. Moreau’s creations, adds another layer of poignancy to the story. I loved the characters of Alice and Balthazar, who are more or less servants and take care of the household. Alice is a sweet girl who seems to be in love with Montgomery, but discovering the mystery of who she really is will break your heart.
A feeling of dread hangs over the entire story, and I found myself fascinated by Dr. Moreau’s horrible creations, unable to look away. Shepherd has done a wonderful job of making the reader uncomfortable while at the same time creating a story that is completely engaging. The only thing keeping me from giving this a five-star rating was the ending, which I wasn’t crazy about. But I’ll leave you to form your own opinions. For horror fans this is a first-rate tale that shouldn’t be missed.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
This book is part of the Debut Author Challenge.