Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

What do you get when you mix horror and science-fiction classics with strange mysteries, gruesome murders, and a badass cast of women in Victorian dress? Let’s find out!

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 soon arrive on their doorstep as well, and now it is up to the five women to stop the malicious machinations of the Société des Alchemistes.

Quite simply, it is time for the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

© Saga Press, June 20, 2017

I love Victorian dramas – especially when they involve buttoned up ladies and gentleman facing down the utterly fantastical and mysterious, so this book was pretty much tailor made for me to enjoy.

And really, I couldn’t be happier.

The book is set up as a novel actually being written by one of our main characters, retelling the events of their first adventure. There are even short asides from the characters as they occasionally interrupt the writer to comment on or correct a passage.

While these can take a bit of getting used to – and do, unfortunately, let us know who will survive the story (does that mean the book is spoiling itself?) – it doesn’t take long to get used to them and get right into the heart of the book.

Most of us are probably familiar with at least a few of these stories – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein, just to name some of the more infamous tales –  and they do play a significant role as the story progresses.

But don’t be scared off. I promise you won’t have to do any required readings for this. This book provides every bit of backstory and establishing fact the reader needs to enjoy the book and the characters, even if they’ve never heard of the stories in which they originally appeared.

And even if you have read them all, you’ll likely still enjoy the various reinterpretations of classics.

The strongest factor of this story is our leading cast of heroines. Women, forgotten or discarded side characters in their original books, are given the chance to step into the spotlight, connected by their ‘monstrous’ origins and determined to prevent anyone else from suffering the same fate.

All of them have their own well-defined personalities and quirks that make them incredibly entertaining to read about, on their own and as a group with a very fun dynamic. I’m torn between amusement at their wit and antics, and haunted after learning about what they’ve experienced.

I won’t spoil any revelations – they’re so well done in the story I’d hate to ruin it – but each of these characters are incredible and add real emotional weight to the story as they face their pasts.

I will say that Mary Jekyll (three guesses what story she’s from) is my favourite of the group. She’s a welcome breath of fresh air for the audience: endlessly practical and well-mannered, even while she’s being thrown further and further into a horror novel mixed in with a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Yes, Sherlock Holmes does factor into events. Where there’s a mystery to solve in Victorian England, you’ll find Holmes on the case, even if it’s not his story! He adds his own logic and flair for deductive reasoning to the book, but never goes so far as to take it out of the hands of our main group, slipping into a supporting role without losing any of his intellect or charm.

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes however, the mystery element is unfortunately the weakest part of the story. The book is based off of classic literature and includes all their original plots and twists. Because of that some of the ‘mysteries’ for the characters are more than a little obvious to the readers. There is an original mystery component as well, which ties in to the group’s investigation into their origins, but it’s not particularly mind-blowing on its own.

Fortunately, Goss’s heroines are both smart enough to figure out these mysteries fairly quickly, and entertaining enough that most readers won’t mind watching them piece the clues together as the story progresses, keeping the reader invested until the very last page.

Despite my criticisms, the overall story of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is very enjoyable. The characters are fun and full of personality, and Goss’s prose manages to be quick witted and clear while giving each of her five heroines their own voice and their own time to shine.

If you’re at all a fan of classic literature with a twist, or if you just like reading fun mysteries with a touch of the incredible, you’ll probably enjoy this book immensely. There’s a teaser for the next book in the series at the very end, and I am very much looking forward to starting that very soon.

On to the next chapter!

Rating: 4/5
Final Thoughts: A wonderful and imaginative retelling of some of literature’s most influential works with an added feminist twist. This is a must read for anyone who admires strong female leads, and who enjoys a good twist or two on classic literature.

Thanks for reading everyone!

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