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The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club) Hardcover – June 20, 2017
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“Theodora Goss is a wonder. Her elegance, wit and powerful voice pull no punches. A brilliant, deeply felt, and nimble book.” (Catherynne M. Valente, Hugo-Award winning author)
“Theodora Goss' splendid debut novel is a whipsmart look at the truths hiding in the stories - Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein, and others - that you might think you know. Full of bravery, adventures, monsters, and sisters, The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter is a rich delight. I loved it, and I can't wait to read the next book.” (Kat Howard, author of ROSES AND ROT)
"Theodora Goss' The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter provides a new and altogether mesmerizing revelation for fans of Watson & Holmes, Van Helsing, Jeckyll & Hyde, and Victor Frankenstein: until now, you've only heard half the story. Goss' deft, poetic interweaving of edge-of-the-seat adventure with the artful voices of her characters creates a matryoshka doll of hidden Gothic fiction in the best sense. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter proves the point that behind every evil genius you'll find a team of fantastic women working to set things right.
As if Charlie's Angels, as written by Mary Shelley, took over the Bluestocking Society, with bonus well-mannered explosions. An utterly delightful, transformative read." (Fran Wilde, award-winning author of Updraft, Cloudbound, and Horizon)
* "A tour de force of reclaiming the narrative, executed with impressive wit and insight." (Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW)
"An enormously accomplished delight of a book...a brilliant novel." (Liz Bourke)
"A pleasure, especially for fans of Victorian detective stories, classic sf and horror literature, and feminist remakes." (Booklist)
"A delightful romp through Victorian gothic literature, with a decidedly feminist slant." (Library Journal)
"A swiftly paced, immaculately plotted mystery full of winning characters you always thought you knew, as well as ones you would never have imagined." (NPR)
"If you’re looking for adventure, kick-ass ladies, a good mystery, and a touch of the monstrous, look no further—The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is the brainy, gleefully madcap literary mashup of your dreams." (B&N SciFi & Fantasy Blog)
" Like a literary magpie, Goss snaps up some of the shiniest bits of Victorian popular culture, but she makes them her own, seeing the possibilities beyond the efforts of their original creators and constructing an intelligent and engrossing 21st-century adventure." (The Portland Press Herald)
About the Author
Theodora Goss is the World Fantasy Award–winning author of many publications, including the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; and the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014); and the novels, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017) and European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (2018). She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Locus, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List, and her work has been translated into eleven languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program. Visit her at TheodoraGoss.com.
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Most of the characters here are famous at one remove: we have, not the originals, but the daughters (biological or created) of Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde (both of him, by different mothers), Dr. Moreau, Rappacini (as in the Hawthorne story), and Frankenstein—plus Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, a Jack-the-Ripper-style murderer, and a few characters from Dracula thrown in around the edges. Most of the story deals with how the daughters, all lively, intelligent, and opinionated young women, find each other and learn to cooperate in finding out how their fathers knew each other and what evil plot they were all involved in. The fathers’ experiments made all the daughters “monsters” in one way or another, with personalities and, in some cases, physical features that keep them from fitting into normal Victorian society.
The book’s best feature is the personalities of the daughters and the closeness they develop for each other despite the differences that lead them to argue constantly, as sisters, whether literal or figurative, often do. The author shows this through the unusual technique of having short bursts of the arguments break into the story, which is narrated mainly by Catherine Moreau (by the end of the story, she’s earning a living as a thriller writer). Mary Jekyll (who, as the most mature daughter as the one with the most resources, becomes a sort of mother to the troupe, with the help of her devoted housekeeper, Mrs. Poole) and Diana Hyde (an endearing brat) are perhaps the best developed, but the other women have even more bizarre backgrounds, especially Justine Frankenstein, whose story, appearing near the end of the book, pulls those of the other daughters together. Holmes and Watson are well handled and play a significant part in the proceedings, but they’re not the main focus here. The Dracula connection is only hinted at, but there are suggestions that it will be further developed in the next book in what is apparently slated to become a series.
Although the book wraps up its tale quite satisfactorily, with the five daughters deciding to share a household and finding ways to use their unique talents to earn money for its upkeep, it solves only some of the mysteries that have been presented. We learn who committed the Ripper-style murders and why, but by the end of the book we still know little about the “Society of Alchemists,” to which all of the fathers belonged, or the ultimate purpose behind the experiments in transmutation that have made the daughters who they are. That, along with the Dracula bits, remains to be explored in a future book or books—which I am greatly looking forward to.
The recent death of her mother, after the death of her father fourteen year earlier, leaves Mary Jekyll in dire straits. With little money remaining and nothing new coming in, Mary must find a way to support herself. But as a series of unsolved, gruesome murders plagues the streets of London, Mary begins to believe her father’s former friend Edward Hyde might be back. Looking to cash in on a reward for the apprehension of Hyde, piecing the clues together, with the help of one famous detective and his Doctor friend, all roads lead to the discovery of Diana Hyde.
Diana’s discovery unveils a mysterious secret society of scientists whose former experiments are all coming out of the woodwork. Together with Catherine Moreau, Beatrice Rappaccini, and Justine Frankenstein, Mary will uncover the mystery surrounding their pasts and the society and hopefully stop a murderer before his next kill.
I feel like it’s a trend right now to kind of go back to the classics. I like Theodora Goss’s take on this trend, however, in how she expands upon the classics. It was a very interesting choice to take the “next generation” of monsters as the case may be and make them the heroines of our story.
I also liked the way in which the story is told. That is, once I got used to it. Strange Case is set up as being told to readers by the girls themselves after the fact, complete with interjections from said girls at various intervals throughout the narrative—which prove to be quite hilarious at times. They’re basically writing down their story for publication. I really felt the distinct voices of each of our main characters.
The characterization of Sherlock Holmes proved to be rather interesting as well. His appearance here just felt off, but then I have to think it’s because of how he’s viewed by our “narrators/writers.” Especially considering that Holmes’ own adventures are conveyed to the masses by Dr. Watson, therefore his characterization is subjected there by Watson himself. I like the idea of perspective that this represents.
Despite Strange Case being primarily Mary’s story, I really enjoyed Beatrice Rappaccini the most. Probably because she’s the character whose classical story I’m completely unfamiliar. I’d say with names like, Jekyll, Hyde, Moreau, and Frankenstein it’s pretty easy to deduce things about the other characters. For those like me: Rappaccini’s Daughter is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorn about a young woman who, working with her father’s poisonous plants, has become poisonous herself and, sadly, has the ability to kill with a single touch. I think out of the five, she definitely has some of the more difficult experiences, at least right now.
The mystery dealing with the unsolved murders is more of a secondary role to that of the mystery surround the girls’ lives and the society that bred them, and we only crack the surface of that mystery by the end. There are various references to other adventures our group of “monsters” get into throughout the narrative. I hope that they’ll get a chance to share them with us some time.