The sequel is almost never as good as the original – even if it is still enjoyable – and European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman proves no exception.
Mary Jekyll and the members of the Athena Club – Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde – have all settled together in the Jekyll household, following the events in The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. But when Mary receives a telegram from her former governess, begging them to help rescue Lucinda Van Helsing, the Athena club must race across Europe to stop another young woman from falling victim to the horrific experiments of the Alchemic Society.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t a bad book, and certainly not a bad sequel. The characters remain strong and likable, and the main conflict is pretty much unchanged, but I still felt that there was something missing from this book, at least in comparison to how stunning and memorable I found the original.
Let’s start with the good, because there is still a lot of good here.
The characters are still the heart of this book, and the relationships and unique characters of the Athena Club remain my favourite part of the whole series. There’s more time spent fleshing out some of the newer members, like Justine and Catherine, and there’s even a bit more time focused on Mary as she grapples with her own monstrous birthright.
There are also some new additions to the cast – most of whom I can’t really talk about without a spoiler warning – but they are all welcome additions. The introduction of the newest ‘monsters’ does not disappoint, especially considering the buildup that was promised at the end of the first book and that is added throughout this one. If you read the first book, you know what’s coming. And it’s pretty awesome.
“My name is Carmilla,” said the woman. “I’ve come from Mina, in Budapest. I think it’s time you were rescued from this place. Don’t you think?”― Theodora Goss, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
Europe itself is also a huge point in this book’s favour. Once again Goss’s writing is crisp and smart, but with the added bonus of being used to create vivid descriptions of Vienna, Paris, and Budapest, just to name a few. I’d actually say that it actually improves upon the original; moving away from the grey streets of London into Europe’s stunning cities and grand palaces. There’s even an ice cream parlour! If you’ve never had the chance to visit Europe, this book will make you want to pack your bags and set off immediately.
But then we come to one of my biggest problems with the novel. This book is essentially about European travel – and that includes all of the time spent actually travelling, complete with long wait times and hours going through customs. The story does pick up again after they reach Vienna (and then puts them right back on the road again shortly after) but it’s still a long way to go between going to rescue Lucinda and actually doing something to start rescuing her.
Lucinda herself is also not the most compelling character, acting for the most part like a true damsel in distress. It is justified within the story, and she does eventually start to feel like more of a person, but it’s odd in a series that focuses on giving its female characters as much agency as possible that she has so little impact as a character until the final act.
“Diana’s with them. There is no situation so well-planned that Diana can’t introduce chaos into it. Whoever is holding them, wherever they’re being held, is going to regret it.”― Theodora Goss, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
Speaking of finales, no spoilers intended, but for me everything was a little too neatly and easily wrapped up. There are still enough threads to tie up that a third book doesn’t feel completely unnecessary, but it does feel like the story has to suddenly introduce some completely new threats just to keep things going. It’s not the worst, but I do feel like there was something lost here that will be sorely missed.
With that said, I’m not sorry at all that I decided to read this. Goss’s phenomenal characters and compelling style kept me reading even when things got a little slow. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman doesn’t quite capture the magic that made the original stand out, but it still manages to be a faithful and enjoyable continuation of the series. The last chapter teases the next book with a terrible (and amazing) new player, and promises of more sinister plots to come. The journey isn’t over for the monsters of the Athena Club, and I’m certainly not done with this series.
Final Thoughts: A tale of far off places and daring rescues, this sequel to Theodora Goss’s debut novel will definitely be enjoyed by fans of the series, even if it doesn’t quite recapture the intrigue of the first.
Thanks for reading everyone.