The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Digital Audiobook narrated by Kate Reading
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 20, 2017
Series: The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Retellings, Young Adult
Length: 402 pages or 13 hours, 38 minutes
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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.
You’d think that, reading the title, I’d have figured out going in that this was going to be a retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Which, by the way, I did not enjoy. In fact, I can rarely remember myself being so bored by so short a books, except maybe The Chimes. So you’d think that, based on my deep disinterest of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this one would have missed my TBR.
I am so, so glad it made it on the list.
Has anyone ever seen The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? It was originally a comic book series by Alan Moore (who also did V for Vendetta) but was turned into a film 2003. Basically, it takes all these characters from different pieces of classic literature and pieces them together for a greater good. You’ve got Mina Murray from Dracula and Dorian Gray played by the ever swoon-worthy Stuart Townsend. Tom Sawyer, Alan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Mr. Hyde… so many of the greats in classic literature. I remember watching it at the drive-in with my family, one of my best friends in the car next to us, and thinking holy crap this is amazing. At the time, I knew all the stories of these characters, but I hadn’t read about them. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is what got me into classic literature.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but in a more derivative YA version.
Our cast of characters is as follows:
- Mary Jekyll, daughter of Dr. Jekyll from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- Diana Hyde, daughter of Mr. Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- Beatrice Rappaccini, daughter/creation of Dr. Rappaccini from Rappaccini’s Daughter.
- Catherine Moreau, creation of Dr. Moreau from The Island of Dr. Moreau.
- Justine Frankenstein, creation of Viktor Frankenstein from Frankenstein.
- Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson from A Study in Scarlet, etc. etc.
- Renfield from Dracula.
Honestly, these are just the references that I caught. I also noticed that the murders they were investigating were parallel to Jack the Ripper’s murders, although that isn’t where the story ended up going. Theodora Goss seems like an amazing fangirl of this literature and English history and I am such a fan of her writing style, because I had so much fun racing around London with these characters.
Of course, with so many famous characters to establish for reader who may not already be familiar with the classic literature, about half the book was backstory for the various girls. To be honest, I’m not sure what other was Theodora Goss could have gone about this and made it any more pleasant for people like me who are already intimately familiar with the stories (well, most of them, anyway). The backgrounds need be established to help understand who all these different women are, but it just dragged the book down until, at times, it felt like a snail’s pace. I found myself tuning in and out whenever one of the girls started writing “her story” because I already knew most of it, and wasn’t interested in the part of why they ended up in London. I’m not sure if this would affect readers who are not intimate with the stories of Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau, etc.
The other thing I personally didn’t care for, but plenty of other readers would most likely find charming, were the character asides. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is being written by Catherine Moreau, and all the other girls have had conversations in the sidelines. Generally speaking, I don’t mind asides. In fact, they’re one of the things that make me like the Bartimaeus trilogy so much. The difference between The Amulet of Samarkand (where I liked the asides) and The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (where I didn’t) lies in formatting and purpose. The asides in this book don’t add anything to the story, except maybe the mental image of a slightly chaotic boarding house-esque family, though I think that’s generous. I also did a little digging (since I listened to the audiobook) and discovered that the asides are in-line? Not a fan. I’d be more forgiving if they were footnotes, because footnotes don’t interrupt the story. Also, with footnotes, if you find you’re not particularly enjoying them… you just stop reading them, and the story goes on.
Other than those two points, I really enjoyed this book. I thought all the characters were well developed and carried their own, which is difficult in a novel with so many different POVs. The plot is to unmask the villain and then stop his nefarious plans, which is fairly run-of-the-mill, but fun nonetheless. I think that The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter would be a fantastic way to introduce young adults to classic literature without tossing them in the deep end. For myself, I don’t think this is necessarily a book I’m going to run out and add to my personal library (mostly because of the eternal backstory) but I will definitely be reading the sequel and I enjoyed Theodora Goss’s writing in general enough to add more of her work to my TBR.