Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On the Bookshelf—Review of the Madman's Daughter

Juliet Moreau is an orphan trying to survive in Victorian England, working as a maid in a labratory. Six years ago her father disappeared after a scandal—he was convicted of performing vivisection.

Juliet runs into Montgomery, once her father's servant and her own dear childhood friend. Montgomery has grown into a man, seemingly a gentleman, and has a frighteningly deformed servant of his own. But what is more—Montgomery tells Juliet her father is alive and living on an island, and Montgomery still works for him.

Juliet and Montgomery sail for her father's island, picking up a mysterious but attractive castaway named Edward along the way. Will Dr. Moreau welcome his daughter with open arms? Will the scandal about Juliet's father prove to be true? What experiments on the island is Moreau doing, and what's the deal with the odd and deformed islanders? Will Juliet be able to sort out her feelings about Montgomery and Edward?

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
Young Adult
Gothic, Romance

Shepherd took on a steep task when she decided to remake The Island of Doctor Moreau into a YA with romantic subplots. It can be difficult not to like this book merely on principle. It's a fun read, but I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't read the H.G. Wells original so recently. A few years between reading The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Madman's Doctor might have made me more receptive to Shepherd's version. And I admit, I may not be partial to this version simply because I've become weary of this type of YA and its tropes.

The further I got into the book the more I got caught up in suspense. There are several intriguing mysteries: What is Edward's past? What really caused the scar along Juliet's spine? What is the monster in the jungle tearing out the islander's hearts?

Montgomery is the most interesting and three-dimensional character in the book. He grew up as a servant but has the brilliance of a scientist. He is essentially kind-hearted, but has learned cruelty. Moreau is both master and father to Montgomery, and Montgomery is in the complicated and unpleasant situation of being servant, assistant, and like a son to Moreau while also being his equal in skill and intellect. On top of that Montgomery is quite handsome.

I would have appreciated a bit more subtlety and finesse, in characterization, in description of the islanders, in the reveal of who the islanders actually are (even though anyone who has read the back of the book will know. God, spoilers!). I thought Juliet's character—a Victorian woman with the violent blood of a mad scientist in her, curiosity and scientific intellect paired with compassion—could have been written more smoothly, more believably. Juliet's claims to being as mad as her father were rather weak.

The islanders in Shepherd's version take on qualities of Frankenstein's monster. Jaguar (Wells' Leopard-Man) gains intellect and self-awareness. Balthasar (Wells' M'ling) has gentleness and compassion. And yet Shepherd's islanders are also more (unnecessarily) physically animalistic than Wells'; they have tusks and tails. Despite Shepherd using sciencey sounding words, I find Moreau's creations in The Madman's Daughter to be less credible, less logical than the original. I can't get more specific without giving away spoilers.

The ending has quite the twist.

I do expect fans of YA (especially paranormal, fantasy, and romantic YA) will eat this up. Fans of the original Doctor Moreau will likely be critical of this reincarnation. For me it was fairly fun and enjoyable, and I kept thinking about it after I read it, but nothing special. I probably won't be reading the sequel, but you never know.

No comments:

Post a Comment