Author: Megan Shepherd
Genre: Fairy Retellings, YA, Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Publication Date: January 29, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC/Edelweiss Review Copy
Summary: In the darkest places, even love is deadly.
Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.
Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.
☆: 4.5/5 stars – an incredible 2013 gothic-biopunk debut you can’t miss!
Review: Out all of HG Wells’ works, “The Island of Doctor Moreau” takes the cake. So many YA books have been rewriting/retelling old classics and fairy tales, and now, we FINALLY have a retelling for my favorite HG Wells tale. “The Madman’s Daughter” is an absolute delight for those who love the Gothic genre, as well as the biopunk genre. This one definitely caught me unawares and is nothing less than a stunning debut from Shepherd. And while I feel like this book definitely has an end to it, I can see where there might be room for two more books in this trilogy. Hopefully there won’t be any middle book syndrome for book 2, though!
Right from the jump this book sucked me right in with it’s deliciously dark world of 1890s London. You can call this a kind of prequel-type of retelling, leading up to the actual events as recorded in the original “Island”, with a more fleshed-out version of Moreau, starting with our MC, Juliet Moreau, now struggling to stay afloat after the scandal that drove her father to his Island in the South Pacific and destroyed her family. The worldbuilding is absolutely fantastic in that Shepherd manages to build not one but two very different worlds – that of London in all of its shabby finery (especially the medical school where Juliet’s father used to work, where she now works) and the Island itself. To create one world is hard, but to create two? That’s harder, and Shepherd does it spectacularly. The first third of the book is in London, and the last two thirds on the Island, so you can see why two different worlds had to be built. The comparisons one has to make between “civilization” and “the jungle” just in the worlds themselves, as well as creating the entire Island to be a second antagonist (something that I love when authors can do it right – and Shepherd did it right!).
And this couldn’t have been done without Shepherd’s surprisingly great handle on lush, and at times, gruesome, sensory imagery and language. I mean, wow. She totally blew me out of the water with it, and with all of the YA I’ve read, I’ve found that increasingly hard to do. She turns an original biopunk tale into a Gothic one, though still manages to keep that biopunk feel. Her crowning achievement, however, with this amazing skill of hers in the sensory department is most definitely the Island, where she turns it into a second (aforesaid) antagonist. This Island is not her friend. The creatures on it are not her friends. Her father is most definitely not her friend. And Shepherd is able to achieve this – both enriching her worldbuilding and creating the Island as a second antagonist – with such vivid imagery that there were times I had to put down the book to catch my breath due to nausea with the medical scenes. I mean, wow.
Now, yes, there is a love triangle going on. And while I’d usually be screaming bloody murder on how I’m tired of these in YA, Shepherd manages to get away with it by making Edward and Montgomery her two choices for the future, and the Island has become her fork in the road. If she goes with Edward, does this mean she’ll go back to human civilization? Or with Montgomery, will she stay on the Island, creating mad experiments with her father? Both of these boys are stand-ins for her two very different futures that she must choose between. And by choosing one boy, she chooses one future. Shepherd makes this very clear by the last third of the book (or so) – that these boys are more than they seem, not just as characters, but as metaphors, too. And I love when authors manage to aim for this goal of turning characters into possible futures – moreso, I love it when they actually manage to do it. And Shepherd does it fantastically.
Finally, the characters. Each one, no matter how big or small, is utterly unforgettable. Juliet, Montgomery, her father, and Edward are the big four (okay, six if we include Alice and Balthazar) that come to mind. Each character felt so incredibly real that at times, reading this book was surreal. Each character is very solidly built, incredibly polished, and will definitely stick in the reader’s mind long after the last page is finished. Juliet is no wilting violet, and I love my Gothic heroines feisty, so all of this really worked for me. And while I shook my fist at the love triangle (even if it is a metaphor, in the end), I still enjoyed every minute with these characters.
Final verdict? While I see a definite “end” for this particular book, there’s plenty of material to continue building off of from the original HG Wells novel for two more books in this trilogy. Definitely one of my favorites of 2013 so far, this is an absolutely gorgeous book to add to the newly revived YA canon and the fairy retellings genre. “The Madman’s Daughter” will be available from HarperTeen on January 29, 2013, so definitely check it out then. And be sure to check out the blog on January 22nd for my stop on the blog tour!