Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this “tour de force of reclaiming the narrative, executed with impressive wit and insight” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) debut is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.
Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.
But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.
When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.
World Fantasy Award winner Goss's debut novel, richly reworking a short story (published in Strange Horizons in 2010) with influences as diverse as The Castle of Otranto and Mystery Science Theater 3000, brings her gothic-inflected fantasies roaring into the steampunk era. The main narrative is a standout pastiche of late Victorian mystery fiction, set in an alternate 1880s London and featuring Sherlock Holmes and a quintet of remarkable women: Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappacini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary Jekyll. Mary is penniless and hoping to remedy that by claiming the bounty on the fugitive Edward Hyde. She partners with Holmes to find him though Holmes is somewhat distracted by a killer who's targeting Whitechapel prostitutes and in the process discovers the other "monstrous" daughters of infamous scientists. Goss easily surmounts the challenge of making such a male-defined premise belong to the women as shapers of their own destinies. A peppering of the daughters' wry comments, first presented as brief marginalia, swiftly blossoms into dialogues and alternative takes on the tale in some cases nearly 200 pages before the commenter herself enters the plot. This is a tour de force of reclaiming the narrative, executed with impressive wit and insight.
Adventure Featuring a Enjoyable Cast of Literary Characters
“The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” features a cast of female characters from famous literary works, who find each other and found The Athena Club. These ladies are not just any English gentlewomen though, they include Dr. Jekyll’s daughter and Justine Frankenstein, among others.
These ladies come to work with Sherlock Homes and Watson to solve the Whitechapel Murders, which have a nefarious purpose which they understand all too well. During this adventure, they become aware of a secret society that their “fathers” all had a connection with. These ladies were all the unfortunate and unwilling experimental subjects of these ruthless men.
This Nebula finalist is a retelling of many famous stories through new eyes. It is gothic, adventurous, yet warm and uplifting.
An Ensemble of Fascinating Female Characters
A historic fantasy featuring an ensemble of fascinating female characters--the "daughters" (in various senses) of various classics horror fiction protagonists. This is the sort of book that often leaps to the top of my to-be-read list. I liked it...but I didn’t love it, which always makes me sad. So first: why did I like it? The premise is full of promise. Mary Jeckyll (daughter of the late doctor) finds information after her mother’s death that results in her taking responsibility for a young woman named Diana Hyde, evidently the daughter of her late father’s assistant who disappeared after being charged with murder (the assistant, not the daughter). They stumble into participating in Sherlock Holmes' investigation of the gruesome murder of a prostitute, and soon clues are turning up to a mysterious “Society of Alchemists” that appears to tie all sorts of threads together, including several other rather unusual women whose fathers were similarly connected to the Society. For anyone familiar with weird literature of the 19th century, picking up on the hints and clues will be a large part of the fun of this story.
The writing is solidly competent and the characters of the various women are distinct and colorful. What didn’t work for me quite as well was the structure of the plot, which feels a great deal like working through the collective origin stories of a band of superheroes without quite getting to the adventure they tackle together. Each character narrates her history to the others which, while, it fills in essential information for the reader, results in a very slow build-up. The need to fit these expository chapters in where they don’t disrupt the flow of the action (which is quite dense and break-neck) can lead to some strange pacing, such as when Justine Frankenstein tells the others her story in the aftermath of the dramatic climax. To be sure, there is a climax and a natural conclusion to the book, as well as a clear opening for a sequel. But this book feels like the set-up for that sequel rather than a stand-alone story.
The other narrative technique that didn’t entirely work for me--and I feel like this is a bit petty--is the meta-fiction of the story’s structure. One of the women is writing up the adventure, deliberately in the style of a penny-dreadful and told from the points of view of the various participants. This narrative is interrupted at regular intervals by commentary among the women, criticizing the wording, their portrayals, and arguing with the choices of the writer. The meta-fiction is that the lot of them are, in essence, hanging over the shoulder of the writer as she works and having their interjections and comments recorded in real time. But the feel of it, to me, was more like an MST3K running commentary--more oral than written--which kept throwing me out of the meta-fictional context. (That is, I might not have been bothered if the side comments felt more like something set down originally in writing than transcribed from audio.) To be fair, it’s an imaginative technique and has the dual functions of turning what might otherwise be a somewhat flat narration into a more lively time-disrupted sequence, and of introducing us to the personalities of the entire group of women long before they enter the storyline, which in some cases comes fairly late in the game.
So, as I said, liked it but didn’t love it, primarily for structural reasons in the writing. But if you're intrigued by the female viewpoint on the consequences of classic horror stories, this will be right up your alley.
The strange case of the alchemists daughter
The first book I’ve read by Theodora Goss, and I had to force myself to put it down just to go to bed! The writing style was a new and welcome change to typical books. Having been a fan of Victorian genre and style, bringing all of the female roles(so often neglected) into the narrative style of the book was very well done! The way she had them interrupt the story telling (breaking the fourth wall) not only lent to the enjoyment of the story itself but, to me at least, helped my mind change gears and drew me in all that much more.