Saturday, February 23, 2013

Women in Horror: The Madman's Daughter

Juliet Moreau's teenage life has been tumultuous and traumatic. When she was younger, her family was part of the highest of society. Her father, Henri Moreau was a well respected scientist and she lived very comfortably with her loving family. Then, the unthinkable happens. Her father is involved in a huge scandal involving rumors of inhuman, grotesque experiements and disappears, presumed to be dead. Her life falls apart and she is cast adrift. With no family and no money, Juliet gets a job as a maid and struggles to earn enough to live. She is one step from living in the streets. Her life takes another turn when she sees her father's assistant Montgomery, who knows that her father is alive and well and living on a remote island. Juliet convinces him to let her accompany him to see her estranged father. After a grueling journey and a castaway named Edward joins them, they arrive at the beautiful, wild island. It's inhabited by  mysterious, strange, and twisted people who treat Henri as their god. Juliet will find out what's happening on this island and if the rumors that led to her downfall are true at any cost.

The Madman's Daughter is an excellent novel that retells The Island of Dr. Moreau through the perspective of Dr. Moreau's daughter. This story is deliciously gothic and melds turn of the century England society with science tinged fantasy and horror. The setting is perfect, both in England and on the island. The contrasts between the two is stark. England is busy, bustling, and dangerous, particularly to Juliet as an unmarried, disgraced girl with no family. The scientific community during this time was full of experimentation and wonder. Charles Darwin's discoveries were not too long ago and this is the century when scientist became a legitimate profession. Henri Moreau's experiments show the dark side to the possibilities of science, where madmen strive to become gods. The vivisections and grotesque experiments (as well as the results of those experiments) proved to be sufficiently thrilling and suspenseful. The island, although bright and wild, became more dark and sinister than England because of Henri's out of control experiments. The bright and open landscape is deceptively beautiful and actually houses unnatural creatures and a murderous monster.

The characters are engaging and unforgettable. Juliet Moreau is an impressive character. Despite being a step above the lowest of the low in English society, she manages to build a life for herself after her mother died and after being abandoned by her father. Her life is very tenuous and one wrong move would leave her to starve or to sell herself to survive. No one wants to associate with a disgraced girl, no matter what her previous position in society was. The only attention she gets is lecherous glances and advances from men in power who could ruin her life in a heartbeat. Juliet doesn't fall into a depression as many other YA heroines might. She fights back when a prestigious surgeon tries to rape her and convinces Montgomery, her father's assistant, to take her to the island. She has a fire, a curiosity, and a drive that makes her magnetic and enjoyable to follow. I love that she doesn't accept her horrible fate in society and does what she can in the face of great opposition to succeed. Her father, Henri Moreau, is just as interesting, but intensely unlikable. Although obviously brilliant, he is incredibly delusional, classist, misogynistic, and egotistical. The drive and curiosity that Juliet has came from her father, but in him, it is twisted and put towards unthinkable experiments that go horribly, horribly wrong.

The Madman's Daughter succeeded in grabbing my attention on the very first page. I was hooked and doomed to read until I lost sleep and forgot meals. Megan Shepherd melded her own story with the source material seamlessly and made sure the romantic woes of Juliet didn't over power the larger story. I highly recommend this deliciously dark gothic read.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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