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BOOK REVIEW:

The strange case of the alchemist's daughter

Call Number: 
M

Many classic horror novels, including Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and The Island of Dr. Moreau, have almost no female characters. If there is a woman included, often she is relegated to being a servant or, more often, a victim. She is rarely featured as a protagonist and NEVER a monster. Dr. Theodora Goss, of Boston University, wrote her doctoral dissertation on these missing female voices, and has addressed it directly in a most enjoyable way by writing The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.

Mary Jekyll has found herself in a most untenable position. Her mother has just died after a long illness, leaving Mary alone and penniless. While reviewing her mother’s paperwork, Mary finds that her mother had been secretly sending money monthly to The Magdalen Society, with the mysterious name “Hyde” written alongside each entry. Mary knows that Edward Hyde was her father’s friend and lab assistant, before he went mad and became a murderer. Could her mother have known, and kept secret, the location of Hyde all these years? If so, why would she be supporting him and aiding him in his evasion of Scotland Yard? They are still looking for him and offering a reward to anyone aiding in his capture. A reward that could save Mary, at least for the foreseeable future. So, Mary makes her way to The Magdalen Society, but she is in no way prepared for the person she finds there. Nor is she prepared for the adventure that follows, which will involve secret societies, a circus sideshow, an asylum, the Poisonous Girl, a series of Whitechapel murders and none other than Sherlock Holmes himself. But she does discover that she is up to the challenge!

Addressing Victorian hegemony, and resulting lack of female agency, Theodora Goss has written a rousing adventure story with a group of “girl monsters, or in some cases monstrous young women,” who are not only the daughters of some of science fiction and horror’s most infamous mad scientists, but also every bit as capable as their male progenitors. Each character has a clear, strong voice that becomes familiar and recognizable. In addition, each character is allowed the opportunity to explain who they are and how they came to be. While they operate within the strictly established Victorian mores of the time, that in many ways hold them back, they also question and challenge them in ways that make sense for the time period. But don’t let this give you the impression that this is a novel filled with Victorian women sipping tea and discussing their “situations.” This is an exciting and adventurous story, filled with thrills, twists, and more than a few surprises. It is also a glorious “next chapter” for the literary classics that spawned it.

Readers who enjoy The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, might be interested to know that Goss first introduced these characters in a short story entitled “The Mad Scientist’s Daughter,” first published in the online magazineStrange Horizons, and also published in the anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. Goss is currently working on a sequel to The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, which is scheduled to be released in 2018.

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