The Madman’s Daughter is a Y.A. (young adult) novel inspired by H. G. Well’s classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. I’m not usually a fan of Gothic fiction. The last I read a Gothic novel was twenty years ago when I was in college and
forced to read assigned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I remember cringing when we were assigned that title, but was pleasantly surprised. The classic story of an unorthodox scientific experiment and the sad, rejected monster created by it turned out to be an interesting narrative that held my attention and stayed with me for a long time. It was certainly better than my first taste of this genre which I didn’t like one bit. That disaster of a book was Wuthering Heights and I wish I had never picked it up. I hated it. Fortunately, I ‘m adding The Madman’s Daughter to my short list of Gothic successes. After wading through the very first part set in London (I almost stopped reading the book), it totally captured my interest and held it until the surprising cliffhanger ending.
The Madman’s Daughter is the quintessential Gothic story full of dark, lush landscapes with a good dose of preternatural events and mystery. For those of you unfamiliar with the elements of a Gothic story, they are as follows:
- An atmosphere of fear and suspense / mystery
- High, overwrought emotion
- Supernatural or inexplicable events
- A woman in distress (a lonely, wistful, oppressed heroine)
- An ominous building and/or wild landscape
- Element of romance, often with rivals or multiple suitors
- The dark side of human nature is explored
- Protagonists are often isolated or alone or in circumstances outside of his/her control
- A heightened sense of drama
Megan Shepherd takes these elements and wraps them into an attention keeping story about sixteen-year-old Juliet, daughter of Dr. Henry Moreau.
Juliet is struggling to survive in London after a scandal brought about by rumors of her father’s experiments. When she runs into a former servant named Montgomery (now a young gentleman) she finds out her father is alive and living on a tropical island. Juliet insists on accompanying Montgomery back to the island and while traveling on the ship to be reunited with her father, she meets Edward – a mysterious young man who is the only survivor of a shipwreck. Edward is harboring secrets of his past and Juliet slowly finds herself drawn to him, despite the childhood affection for Montgomery that has begun to blossom into something more.
On the island Juliet discovers just how depraved and yet brilliant her father really is. The natives of the island aren’t really natives at all, but rather humans her father has created from creatures. While the creatures are gentle and child-like, there is something out in the jungle that’s not. As the body count starts rising, Juliet realizes that she needs to get off the island before it’s too late.
Throughout the story she is torn between horror of her father’s actions and experiments and pride at his brilliance. There is a huge conflict in her heart over the loving father she remembers as a child and the one she discovers as a young adult. Mimicking this conflict there is the tension she feels as she vacillates between her affection with Montgomery and her growing, inexplicable bond with Edward. As she discovers more about the two young men, her choice becomes clouded from secrets both of them harbor. No one is who they seem to be, not even Juliet herself.
I’ll stop here with the plot so I don’t ruin the twists and surprises, because there are several and a couple of them completely astonished me! I’m usually good at figuring out these types of things, but the revelations in The Madman’s Daughter were unexpected.
Reading my review, I probably wouldn’t be tempted to pick up the Madman’s Daughter, but despite the creepiness, it really was a worthwhile book that examines the thought of what it really means to be human (not unlike Shelley’s Frankenstein) and the battle between darkness and light that occurs in all of us. I enjoyed the lush setting and the Victorian era accouterments, the mystery, suspense and the plot twists. The Madman’s Daughter is a fresh and different entry into a super-saturated Y.A. market that will likely be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.
Now for the MOM part of my review. Please note that there may be minor spoilers in the material below.
This is a dark book with adult themes. It has quite a few more than the norm of things I would consider possibly objectionable:
- There is a near rape scene in the beginning that is perpetrated by a lecherous older man at Juliet’s employment. Juliet retaliates by hacking at his hand with a mortar scraper: “And my God, as wicked and wrong as it was, I liked it.”
- There are approximately 21 incidences of some sort of s*xual tension or mention of that type of thing. Examples:
- “He took my wrist lightly. He kissed the soft, sensitive flesh, and then ran his finger up my arm. This is what people talk about, I thought, when they say they could die of pleasure.” (That is the most explicit scene in the book. It’s pretty tame and a little sophomoric but may be a bit much for younger teens.)
- “I had a vague memory, more like a dream, of him wrapping his arms around me, breathing in the scent of my hair, muttering against my cheek. I could have stopped him. But I feigned sleep instead, and held him closer.” (This is when Juliet and one of the young men find themselves sleeping in a cave after a chase through the jungle by an unseen foe.)
- It’s implied that Juliet’s mother, before she died, was someone’s mistress in exchange for money.
- Juliet sees one of the young men bathe in the nude.
- There is violence and cruelty to animals. A vivisection (live dissection) of a rabbit is described and there is screaming when other animal-humans are being created or experimented on.
- There is drinking mentioned a couple times – in the beginning of the book a friend is tucked on a sofa between two young men with a half empty rum bottle dangling from her fingers. Juliet drinks Brandy but is reprimanded for it by her father who says its not for a lady. She replies, “Good. Then it’s perfect for me.”
- There is some cursing such as d*mn, hell, g*dd*amn, bastard
- Juliet’s father says that Christianity is a bunch of fairy tales
Because of the above, I don’t consider this acceptable reading for my 14 year old. In fact, The Madman’s Daughter almost felt more like a book for adults than the Y.A. market except for the “teen” triangle element. I think it will be a successful book but it will definitely take a lot of people out of their comfort zone. The WOW twists will bring readers back for the next in the trilogy.
The second book is going to be based on the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I have my own guesses as to which characters might return for the next installment and look forward reading more about the strong and lovely Juliet.
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