I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Published by Saga Press on June 20 2017
Genres: Adult, Horror
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The nitty-gritty: A delicious mashup of classic horror literature featuring a wonderfully lively cast of female characters.
It was a strange experience, dressing as a man. Everything felt different, everything buttoned a different way. But when she had put on the shirt and trousers, she realized what freedom they would give her. How easily she could move, without petticoats swishing around her legs! No wonder men did not want women to wear bloomers. What could women accomplish if they did not have to continually mind their skirts…If they had pockets! With pockets, women could conquer the world!
Behind the gorgeous and lush cover of this book lies a story just as intricate and engaging. I eagerly started to read The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, but got way more than I bargained for. Theodora Goss has imagined some of the best female characters I’ve had the pleasure to read in some time, and I won’t soon forget Mary, Catherine, Beatrice, Justine and Diana. But what’s different about these women is that they are all daughters of “famous” characters from classic horror novels—Mary Jekyll, Catherine Moreau, Beatrice Rappaccini, Justine Frankenstein and Diana Hyde. Have I sparked your interest yet? Then read on…
When the story opens, Mary Jekyll is attending the funeral of her mother, and now that both her parents are dead, she is in dire straits. She barely has any money left and must face the horrible task of letting her house staff go. However, after reading the will her mother left behind, Mary discovers that both her parents were keeping secrets. Mary is drawn into a mystery surrounding her father’s friend Mr. Hyde, who may have been responsible for a murder long ago. As one clue leads to the next, Mary finds herself involved with a group of women who are all connected in some way to a mysterious secret society of alchemists. With the help of Sherlock Holmes and the dashing Mr. Watson, Mary and her new friends begin to uncover the truth, and the string of gruesome murders that Mr. Holmes is investigating suddenly have new—and horrific—meaning.
This is a mashup of so many different stories that shouldn’t work, and yet somehow it does. In addition to such famous tales as Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Island of Dr. Moreau, Goss incorporates Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson into her tale, and I’m still trying to figure out how she managed that without completely sending her story over a cliff! And rather than simply rehashing the events of those famous tales, the author puts her own spin on them and tells us a “here’s what really happened” story, as told by the women who lived through some pretty horrific times.
Goss tells her story in an interesting format, although not all readers are going to like it. She breaks the fourth wall by allowing her characters to comment on the story as it goes along. We soon discover that Catherine is the one writing their story down, but each of the other women are reading along and chime in whenever they disagree with something Catherine has written, or have something to add. It added a lot of humor to the tale, as the characters’ personalities shown through during these passages. Mary’s housekeeper Mrs. Poole is more of a side character, but she has a lot to say about what’s going on, and I loved when she added her voice to these “asides.”
Sprinkled throughout the story, amidst the murders and Mary’s search for the truth about her father and Mr. Hyde, are the shocking backstories of each of the daughters. I loved the way Goss spread them out, and once I realized what she was doing, I couldn’t wait to get to the next girl’s story. I was especially intrigued by Beatrice, whose tale is based on a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne that I had never heard of before called Rappacchini’s Daughter. Although all the girls are tragic figures in one way or another, I was immediately sympathetic to Beatrice’s plight, a girl whose father raised her to tend his garden of poisonous plants, and after many years of exposure, Beatrice has literally become poison herself. This is just one example of the cruel experimentation that the fathers performed on their daughters.
It’s hard to pick a favorite character when each one is brilliantly realized, but I do have a soft spot for Justine Frankenstein, a soft-spoken and gentle woman whose imposing height (her father created a giant) makes people afraid of her. Justine had one of the kindest hearts, and my own heart broke for her. She and Catherine have formed a very close friendship, having been sideshow acts in a circus together, and I loved their sisterly bond. And if you have ever read The Island of Dr. Moreau, then you might have an inkling of what poor Catherine has been through. And I couldn’t write this review without mentioning Diana, the young daughter of the infamous Mr. Hyde, whose spitfire personality added a great deal of energy to the story.
If you love the sensibility of a good Gothic mystery, you’ll thoroughly enjoy yourself while reading this book. But it’s the characters who really steal the show. Goss sets her story in a time period where women have very little freedom and are simply pawns for men to use and discard. And yet, these women prevail and rise above their station. Full of gumption and bravery, Mary and her friends show us what a true sisterhood can be.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.