Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover, 420 pages (9780062128027)
Source: Purchased from Mysterious Galaxy
Juliet Moreau, who had only known a life of luxury and intrigue, has been sent to work as a maid at a medical school in London after her father is suspected of conducting horrific experiments. She is left orphaned and penniless in the growing industrial city, but soon uncovers a chilling clue that leads her to believe her father is alive and well... and continuing his gruesome experiments on a remote tropical island where he has been creating humans out of animals. With the help of her father's assistant, the handsome servant boy from her childhood, she sets off on a quest to uncover the truth of her father's work, and to discover whether or not she herself has the propensity for a bit of madness.
"The basement hallways in King's College of Medical Research were dark, even in the daytime."
The Madman's Daughter is the first in a new trilogy by Megan Shepherd, the first of which is inspired by H.G. Wells's classic horror story, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and an amazing kickstart to what I believe will be memorable series. Described as Gothic horror, I would say the story is more akin to historical romance set in a science fiction world with enough horror elements to satiate my grim appetite. It had enough drama to tug at my heartstrings and bring me to tears at certain points, and just enough mystery to keep me guessing until the shocking cliffhanger ending. Shepherd did a phenomenal job of building tension and leaving just enough to the reader's imagination to keep them on the edge of their seats.
"It was a dangerous pull in my gut drawing me toward the dark possibilities of science, toward the thin line between life and death, toward the animal impulses hidden behind a corset and a smile."
The story begins in mid-1890's London where poor orphaned Juliet Moreau has been sent to work as a maid at King's College of Medical Research. She has been surrounded by science and medicine since she was a little girl, and spent many a night spying on her father's work, trying to learn as much as she can in a world where a young lady's worth is measured by her breeding, not intelligence. In a world inhabited strictly by men, she finds herself the object of unwanted desire by one of the doctors, and a harrowing escape leads her to a seedy bar where she finds her childhood friend and father's assistant, Montgomery... along with a strange, deformed man known as Balthazar. The two set off on a journey to the island of Dr. Moreau, where Juliet hopes to uncover the truth of her father's accusations from London and her subsequent abandonment. What she finds, however, is an island inhabited entirely by her father's horrific imaginations, and confirmation to his inherent madness. Animals, which have been experimented on and surgically made to resemble humans, now roam the compounds, viewing Dr. Moreau as a veritable God among beasts. Of course, playing God comes with a price, and a series of murders allude to the destructive capabilities of the island's supposedly docile creatures, and reveals that the boundary between man and monster is sometimes blurred.
"The humanity behind such a deformed face troubled me deeply. Instead of returning the smile, I turned away guiltily."
Although I finished it very quickly and left me craving more, the book is not without its faults, however, and a few notable annoyances must be addressed. The romance / love triangle was a bit unnecessary, in my opinion. Although we are initially introduced to Montgomery as the love interest, a second man, Edward (no, not that Edward) enters the picture once they set out on their voyage. One is rich, the other poor. One rough and strong, the other soft and nimble. How can a lady of good breeding and marriageable age possibly be expected to choose? Well, I would think Juliet, as a daughter of a scientist and one who fancies herself a medical ingenue, would have a better understanding of her biological response to the two men and not spend her time clutching her pearls and breaking out the smelling salts every time she has a close encounter of the male kind. She should have the ability to decipher between love and lust, but alas, Juliet spends the bulk of the book lusting after one, regretting it, lusting after the other, regretting it, and pays no never mind to her father's clandestine experiments or the deformed and abused animal-human hybrids walking the compound. The pacing was also a bit slow, and we don't even arrive to the island until about 100 pages into the story, but I felt this was easily remedied with the sporadic action and genuine horror scenes which kept me wanting more. I hope these are issues Shepherd will fix with future installments in the series.
"'Don't be alarmed if you're awoken. The animals- they scream, you know."
The Madman's Daughter is a genuinely enjoyable and horrific account of science gone wrong and where the boundaries between truth and madness lie. The characters were memorable and each brought their own unique addition to the story. I was pleased that Juliet wasn't a complete bonehead, like most YA heroines tend to be, although I hope she plays a bigger role in the next book. Shepherd did a great job of offering enough clues about the mysteries surrounding the island and the experiments without revealing too much all at once, which allowed for just enough delightful intrigue to keep the horror aspect intact. And the ending... oh, that ending! The Madman's Daughter is one title you should definitely check out!