Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora GossPlot

This book centers on a 17-year old Mary Jekyll, the daughter of Dr. Henry Jekyll, after her mother dies and she inherits the house on Regents Park and little else. It seems Dr. Jekyll’s money disappeared shortly before his suicide at the end of the book by Stevenson. His wife apparently (in true Victorian fashion) went mad and had to be cared for by her daughter. Her death leaves Mary lady of the house, but no income or ability to earn one. Naturally this would be resolved by getting married to a prosperous gentleman, but she avoids that trap and tries to live as best she can on her own…but not for long.

This is the setup to the novel, and as the book goes on we encounter Sherlock Holmes and other literary characters of the period; many of whom end up rooming in the Jekyll home and helping Mary in her investigations concerning the apparent death of her father and his connection to Edward Hyde. Indeed, they form a club called “The Athena Club”, based at the Park Terrace home, to investigate a shadowy group their fathers were members of called the Société des Alchimistes. This was a group of scientists who decided that evolution through scientific experiment was the future of mankind, and that it was best to experiment on young girls as their minds were more malleable and controllable. As you can imagine, this results in some very annoyed young women.

Opinions — SPOILERS!!!!

At first I wasn’t sure I would like this book as it seemed to be simply an excuse to get a bunch of literary female characters together on a flimsy premise. Sort of the Addams Family in corsets. After reading the book though I came to appreciate the twists and turns of the plot and how the author was able to plausibly link them all on a single quest. The book engages in an unusual writing style, in that this book also exists in the characters’ world; being written by Catherine Moreau on behalf of the club (and to earn much needed money). The odd part is that on occasion the characters interject their own opinions in the middle of the narrative, as if it’s a novelized Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was initially fun, but quickly grew annoying as the story progressed. Plus since most of the characters comment at the beginning, you know any danger they are in later won’t really harm them as they obviously survived to provide commentary after the fact. A nice try, but I hope the sequel in July 2018 drops this writing technique; or at least reduces its frequency.

Lady SuperMankind?

From a Victorious standpoint, the story is made to start an all-female heroine group in London. You have Mary Jekyll (Inquiry Agent), Diana Hyde (Rogue/Vigilante), Catherine Moreau (Paragon), Justine Frankenstein (Strongarm), and Beatrice Rappaccini (Radiant). With their faithful Dependent Mundanes of Mrs. Poole and Alice the maid, they’re ready to battle the villainous society that created them and perhaps discover other powers beyond what they show in the first book. The breaks in the narrative for character comment seem to imply they’ve been involved in several adventures together, many dealing with Holmes and Watson along with assorted princes and monsters…all in the parlor, no less! If there is interest, perhaps I can give statistics for some of them in a future blog post.

Summary

I give this book 4 cogs out of 5. The inserted character comments can break the flow of the narrative, and is my only real criticism. Give it a read, and if you agree then the sequel comes out this July so it’s not a long wait!

Genteel Magistrate

 

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