European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
In the sequel to the Nebula finalist The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of mad scientists from literature embark on a madcap adventure across Europe to rescue another monstrous girl and stop the Alchemical Society’s nefarious plans once and for all.
Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.
But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?
Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies.
Goss's The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, an exuberant, intelligent reimagining of sensational Victorian fiction, was eminently satisfying but dangled more loose threads than a housekeeper's mending basket; Goss makes good with this double-decker follow-up and more promised to come. The "monstrous" daughters of a gaggle of notorious experimenters Mary Jekyll and Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappacini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein have banded together as the Athena Club, dedicated to the independence of its membership and the destruction of their fathers' nefarious schemes. The core of those schemes is the Soci t des Alchimistes, scientists who scorn the ethical norms of their peers. Adventure sparks when Mary receives a desperate letter from Lucinda Van Helsing: "I am... the subject of certain experiments carried out by my father." Justine joins Mary to spearhead a rescue, and before long the entire crew are chasing from London to Vienna to Budapest on the ever-expanding quest. The series concept and execution continue to be terrific fun, but the book's girth is unnecessarily daunting, as it's hard to sustain a headlong rush for the length of a marathon course.
Fun characters, pondrous story
I am frustrated in my desire to love this series. I love the concept (all the sff/fantasy/gothic novels of the 19th century were true in the same universe) and I love the characters (the daughters or female creations of the men in all those novels come together in a found family and have adventures). But this is the second book in the series in which I found the plot thin and the narrative style ponderous and somewhat bloated. The characters do a lot of traveling around across Europe and having episodic encounters with the antagonists, but I found it hard to get a sense that there was an overarching storyline. And (without spoilers) I felt that Our Heroines didn't really do much in the final climax other than show up.
Goss has a fractally detailed familiarity with the literature she draws on, and with the historic and geographic settings she uses, but those details were included in the narrative at about two levels above what would have worked for me. Rather than sketching out the setting just enough for the reader to get an impression and fill the rest in, we are told in detail exactly how the rooms are furnished and what the characters are eating, and are repetitively told things about their relationships to each other that we already know. This adds to slowing down the narrative sufficiently that I wasn't sure I was going to stick with it to the end. (I did.) Often at this point in a review, I'll say something about how the writing was solid and the story just didn't hit my sweet spot, but in this case the overall concept was totally sticky with my sweet spot, but the writing kept getting in the way of enjoying it as much as I wanted to.
I was also disappointed for a very personal and completely unfair reason. Other readers had promised me that this all-female-protagonist series was getting a bit of same-sex romance in book 2 and I was totally there for it, despite there being no hint of the fact in the promotional copy. But--and I don't consider this a spoiler--the same-sex element was simply the inclusion of Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla among the literary characters who make up the supporting cast. Carmilla is canonically attracted to women and comes from exactly the sort of literature this series is based on. But I confess I was hoping that maybe we'd get a bit of queer rep among the protagonists. Who are all fascinating and indiidual characters. And who I'd love to read about in a story that had a more engaging structure.
The book is about the journey for these young ladies as well the reader. The side conversation between the characters is a humorous writing style. I didn’t like how many times they “advertised”, we get the point. Overall enjoyed the read.