After the scandal that led to the end of Doctor Moreau's career and subsequent flight from England—abandoning his wife and daughter seemingly without a second thought—his wife became a rich man's mistress to keep herself and her young daughter from complete ruin. But when a rich man's mistress dies, what is to become of her daughter?
In sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau's case, she becomes a cleaning woman at the very college where her father allegedly performed the experiments that led to his downfall. She's just one misstep away from destitution, and one night—in fending off the unwanted advances of a lecherous doctor—she takes that step.
Luckily, the loss of her job coincides with a run-in with her family's former servant, Montgomery... who just so happened to disappear at the same time as her father. Within a week, she heads off to Australasia with Montgomery and his odd, hairy manservant, Balthasar—to round out the group, they pick up handsome castaway Edward Prince along the way—to live in her father's compound on a remote island.
So, yes: The Madman's Daughter is a re-imagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau. And just like the original, HOLY COW, it is not for the squeamish. Because, you know: Doctor Moreau is all about the vivisection. And Shepherd doesn't shy away from describing it in hideous detail. So much so that I wouldn't be surprised to see readers cite this as a reason for going vegetarian*. Or at least for paying more attention to whether or not their beauty/hygiene products are cruelty-free.
That isn't a complaint, mind you. I love the Gothic genre, and The Madman's Daughter is as Gothic as Gothic gets. Even better, it works as both a classic Gothic and a more modern horror story: the grotesquerie of the creations fits right into the more classic end of the spectrum (as does Juliet's utterly AWFUL father, the romance—both capital-R and lowercase-r—and the heightened awareness of sexuality), and the graphic detailing of the gorey bits... well, that says modern to me.
I really, really enjoyed this one: it works as historical fiction, as science fiction, as a horror story, a romance, a coming of age, and as a retelling of H.G. Wells' original. The changes that Shepherd makes, the twists she introduces, they all feel organic and they play off the original and change it, but in ways that complement the Wells, if that makes sense. It changes it without trying to replace it or diminish it, maybe? Whatever it is I'm trying to say (YEESH), it's TOTALLY engrossing, and I TOTALLY DUG IT.
Also, get this: it's the first in a trilogy. The second is going to be based on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the third on Frankenstein. AND I AM SO LOOKING FORWARD TO THEM. THAT IS ALL.
*That's what happened to High School Me after I read Doctor Rat. (That lasted six years. Until an obnoxious vegan in college—not to be confused with all of the AWESOME vegans that I still love very much—gave me crap for drinking milk and so I went and got a cheeseburger and ate it out of spite**. But I digress.)
**Yes, I got sick.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.