Title: The Madman's Daughter
Author: Megan Shepherd
Publisher: Harper Teen
Released: Jan 29, 2013
Buy: The Book Depository
“Dead flesh and sharpened scalpels didn’t bother me. I was my father’s daughter, after all. My nightmares were made of darker things.”
Megan Shepherd’s debut novel is nothing short of imaginative. Admittedly, I have never read H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, the inspiration for The Madman’s Daughter, so the comparison isn’t one that I am able to make. But for my first taste of this author’s ingenuity, I am soundly impressed.
Let us begin with Juliet Moreau, the madman’s daughter and the star of this book. She is surprisingly relatable, for a young maid in a historical London setting. Being forced to fend for herself after her father’s scandalous disappearance makes her a remarkably durable and admirable character. We get interesting fleeting glances into her more brutal side – the side that defines her connection to science and her mad father – and for the vast majority of the novel, she is a brilliant heroine. After reuniting with a childhood friend and servant, she is quick to understand that her father is alive and working away on a remote island far from civilisation. A nauseating ship ride later, we meet the notorious madman and the story truly kicks into gear.
The island is a horrific place, with its deformed inhabitants and constant stormy weather. It is as far from Victorian England as is possible to get, making the historical setting almost irrelevant. Truth be told, I failed to appreciate the era in which this story was set, thinking that the potential here was not fully utilised. There is a distinct modern tone to much of the characters’ speech, one that failed to go unnoticed. Still, despite that, I thoroughly appreciated the faint gothic quality of the story and welcomed the thrill of the plot. Perhaps it helped that I had not read the synopsis immediately before proceeding with this book, as I found it wonderfully unpredictable and shocking. You can find out what Juliet’s father has been experimenting on from the book description, but I won’t mention it here. It is ghastly, almost difficult to believe possible due to the flimsy explanations, but a twist that adds a touch of gruesome creativity to the story.
Along the way to the island, Juliet and Montgomery – the servant who is now her father’s assistant – are joined by a castaway named Edward. There is a love triangle (surprise, surprise), but not one that is too pronounced. It is an unnecessary inclusion, however, and frustratingly transparent. Though, having said that, I enjoyed the romantic tension between Montgomery and Juliet and appreciated the direction it ultimately took. As characters, both Edward and Montgomery are wonderfully layered, imperfect young men. One thing I failed to understand, however, was Edward’s very sudden and mostly unfounded desire to protect Juliet. It was not too difficult to prefer Montgomery in the end.
There are a noticeable number of flaws to this book, several of which I have mentioned, but, surprisingly, I still greatly relished immersing myself in this story despite them. With the ending being undeniably cruel (not exactly a cliff-hanger, but not easy on the heart either), I have no choice but to beg for the sequel.
Rating: 4 stars