Monday, February 25, 2013

Review of The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Balzer & Bray
The Madman’s Daughter
by Megan Shepherd
3 Scribbles

She should have been a Victorian lady, making her debut in society and finding a charming, educated man to spend her life with. Instead, Juliet is a chamber maid at the local hospital, scrubbing blood out of grout after autopsies. Her father, Dr. Moreau, was a renowned surgeon making strides in medical science, until it was discovered he was performing vivisection—dissecting living organisms to see their insides work.  When Dr. Moreau was banned from England and Juliet’s mother died shortly thereafter, her fortune forever changed—that is until the day her old childhood friend and family servant, Montgomery, shows up in London, and Juliet wonders if her father is still alive. If so, is Dr. Moreau really the evil monster the medical community has made him out to be?

I pre-ordered this book because (1) I loved the cover and (2) the synopsis hooked me.  Obviously, the story is a reimagined version of the classic by H.G. Wells, The Isle of Doctor Moreau, a novel I really enjoyed, so perhaps holding the original as the gold standard by which to judge this retelling skewed my judgment. I did enjoy the intrigue in the story. Of course I knew where the strange creatures on the island came from, but I was still riveted and appalled when Juliet stumbles into her father’s laboratory and witnesses the source of the tortured cries in the compound. The laboratory and its horrors are so well-described and so chilling I read through that section twice!  I also appreciated the characterization of Dr. Moreau; he is exactly what I imagine a crazed killer with wild ambitions to be—at one moment charming and bedazzling with excellent taste and rare moments of affection—and in the next moment, cold, distant, rude and dismissive.  His doesn’t exist on the plane that others do, he lives only for his pursuits of the forbidden—like most madmen.  I found the drawing of his character insightful. I began to understand not only his insanity, but the way others were drawn to him. Juliet, however, felt more like a sketch to me. Granted, she exists as a lens to reveal the story, but I wanted more for her character. Indeed, the author tries to engage her in a love triangle, but I simply didn’t buy into the romance or heat. The fact that she loves Edward and Montgomery could totally work and add tension to the story, but it doesn’t here, for some reason her attachments seem false. Maybe it’s because there is plenty of tension in the setting itself, with the jungle darkness, strange creatures, and an unknown killer on the loose.  And oh the setting! It is the setting that is the greatest frustration for me. Characters do a lot of running back and forth on the island, Juliet after Edward then Edward after Juliet, Montgomery after Juliet and Montgomery after Moreau…etc. etc.; it feels as if someone is saddling up at every turn, and I found such running about and accomplishing nothing exhausting. However, I suppose that’s unavoidable given the limits of an island setting. The ending was also a frustrating cliffhanger, but I suppose that is so readers will be motivated to buy and read book two. I do want to know what happens to Juliet, but whether or not I read book two really depends on what other reading option might be sitting next to the second installment on the bookstore shelf.


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